Official publications of the Trump campaign and transition team propose significant changes in energy policies.   The principal focus of the proposed policy changes addresses energy independence and job creation through greater production of fossil fuel resources.  But apart from pronouncements to “scrap … the Clean Power Plan” there is little to glean from the official publications regarding the incoming administration’s plans to address the much needed transformation of the Nation’s electricity system.

Additional insights about potential Trump administration policies affecting the electric power sector can be gleaned from assorted comments by the President-elect and transition team officials. Since the election, they have signaled possible policy initiatives to scrutinize wind energy subsidies and bird kill impacts, promote nuclear energy and lift restrictions on “clean coal”.  But these hints at policy direction, coupled with an intention to move away from the Clean Power Plan, still leave the electric power industry awash in uncertainty regarding future federal policies to modernize and increase the efficiency, resiliency and security of the Nation’s power grid.

Meanwhile the corporate sector continues to demand federal policies to promote American prosperity through clean energy transformation and is focused on locating business operations in states that facilitate corporate procurement of clean energy.  Independent of clean energy and climate change considerations, the leading trade association of the electric utility industry is highly focused on grid modernization through efforts to redesign and transform the use and operation of the grid to integrate distributed energy resources, replace distribution lines and deploy new technologies and systems that will enhance reliability, resiliency and efficiency.    

Against this backdrop, on January 6, 2017 the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis issued the second installment of the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), a 494-page interagency opus packed with detailed graphs, data and analyses of trends and issues confronting the Nation’s electricity sector between now and 2040.  It purports to examine “the entire electric industry supply chain from generation to end use” and features 76 specific policy recommendations designed “to protect and enhance the value of the electricity system through modernization and transformation.”  The document builds on the first installment of the QER that was issued in April 2015.  It acknowledged (in only 348 pages) the challenges facing the Nation from a changing energy and business landscape, the status of energy transmission, storage and distribution (TS&D) infrastructure and the need for policy direction to promote grid modernization.

The 76 policy recommendations in the QER’s second installment address six overarching or crosscutting policy objectives that should be reflected in grid modernization:

  • protect the electricity system as a national security asset;
  • maximize economic value and consumer equity;
  • enable a clean energy future;
  • ensure electricity system reliability, security and resilience;
  • assure availability of properly trained and sized workforce to meet the changing needs of the system; and
  • target opportunities to enhance cross-border electricity integration in North America.

To illustrate that “the electricity sector is a complex system of overlapping interests, investments and impacts that affect industry, businesses, consumers, and communities,” the second installment of the QER repeatedly uses the following graphical depiction of the system and related policy goals:


The QER also takes care to detail how the Nation’s power grid is comprised of an immensely complex system-of-systems, including generation, transmission, and distribution subsystems that are owned, planned, operated, managed and maintained by myriad institutions. This complexity is further magnified at the policy level by the different roles played by scores of federal, state, local and tribal government agencies that have jurisdiction over pieces of the system.

Given the vast magnitude and complexity of the subject matter, neither installment of the QER is a page turner. Even the 24-page “Summary for Policy Makers” in the second installment is dense and demands concerted attention to comprehend the critical technological, economic, national security and environmental issues and policy choices that confront the Nation’s electricity system.

To address these demands, there is no simple fix or single panacea policy that can fit into a tweet. As the Trump team transitions from campaign mode to assume the hard work of governing, the new administration will need to flesh out its heretofore abbreviated and incomplete policy hints for the power sector.  Most of the recommendations in the QER would implement policies to promote quintessentially American values of efficiency, innovation and liberty in the electricity system. As such the new administration may well appreciate the QER as a rich resource of data, analyses and recommendations assembled through the coordinated efforts of 22 federal agencies under the direction of President Obama with the intention of providing a comprehensive and integrated roadmap to achieve apolitical grid modernization objectives in service of the Nation.