President, electric industry plan ways to restore power
May 8th, 2013
07:26 PM ET
12 months ago

President, electric industry plan ways to restore power

(CNN) - Continuing a relationship first established in the run-up to Superstorm Sandy, President Barack Obama sat down with representatives from the electric utility industry on Wednesday to discuss ways the federal government can help companies quickly restore power after major disasters.

According to accounts from two industry executives in attendance, much of the meeting focused on improving responses to natural disasters, but both industry and government officials also drew parallels to potential outages caused by a major cyber attack.

“There’s a lot of commonality in the responses to these types of activities,” said Nick Akins, president and CEO of American Electric Power.

Whatever the cause of the next major power outage, removing barriers for utility workers to reach the source will be crucial to shrinking the length of time customers are without power, and this is the primary goal of the partnership between the industry and the federal government.

Evidence of this partnership could be seen before Sandy hit land last October. A utility executive was embedded with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help facilitate the industry’s rapid response, and utility CEOs began holding daily conference calls to discuss resource sharing.

“The president came onto one of those calls before the hurricane hit in New York and New Jersey and made a strong call to make electricity a first responder issue,” recalled Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn, who was on the Sandy conference calls and present at Wednesday’s meeting. “He talked about the fact that he would have no tolerance for red tape in an emergency.”

The president reiterated this desire to designate utility workers as first responders during Wednesday’s meeting, Kuhn said.

Such a designation could help companies across the country share resources by allowing trucks to easily cross the country without the need for state-specific permits or redundant stops at highway weigh stations. If structured properly, it might even allow workers from Canada to cross the U.S.-Canadian border without delay, allowing more utility resources to reach areas with major damage.

How exactly the administration and the industry can accomplish such changes was the question at hand on Wednesday.

"We really need to further identify the processes for these particular issues, I don't think that with one executive order you can solve them," Kuhn said, pointing out that there are many state regulations currently standing in the way. And on the issue of international resource sharing, laws on both side of the border could pose a problem.

But both Kuhn and Akins agreed that the president's personal involvement in the issue is unprecedented, and represents a commitment from the government to be an asset rather than a hindrance.

"His message was pretty much right on line with others in the group," Akins said. "That there are some lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy and that he was very forceful during Superstorm Sandy that we want to make sure that we can respond quickly and get all the red tape out of the way."

Held at the Department of Energy, this is the first meeting of its kind that the president has held with representatives from the utility industry. Present at the meeting were CEOs from major electric utility companies, representatives from industry trade organizations and officials from various government agencies including the Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security.


Filed under: Energy • President Obama
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Donna

    Adding the government to the process will only make it worse. Government bureaucracies are NOT known for their quick response. Just ask people in New York and New Jersey. Obama just wants to get the federal government into as many aspects of our life as possible. The most feared words in the English language are "I'm from the federal government and I'm here to help you."

    May 8, 2013 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  2. jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    A good idea but the gop bafoons will screw it up !!!!

    May 8, 2013 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  3. Goodwater

    As with everything Obama touches this will become political and he will somehow pay off his supporters to the detriment of the American people. I have been around since Truman and do not vote party lines...ever. This president is the worst I've seen in terms of splitting the American people. One gets the feeling he does it for political reasons, as if any reason is good.
    When he ran, Obama was sold to us as brilliant and a constitutional law scholar. He's been anything but.
    He has done nothing for minorities unless it got him something.
    Just a bad, bad president.

    May 8, 2013 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  4. Data Driven

    We'll benefit from this synergy in future disasters.

    May 8, 2013 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  5. Name willard

    I am belived that presdient obama was lots problemns with his team for 4 year that obama like keep play games at white house

    May 8, 2013 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  6. Catmandew

    Wonder what he will do on this one? Make another executive order and tell utilities how to run their businesses. Typical Obama he doesn't know the first thing about runnin a utility but will tell them how to do their jobs!

    May 8, 2013 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  7. Catmandew

    Obama just tryin to get another photo op .

    May 8, 2013 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  8. S.B. Stein

    We need a more responsive energy grid. We also need more non-fossil fuel energy sources.

    May 8, 2013 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  9. king

    its time America start putting power lines under ground, with installations that will prevent water damage. putting electrical wires above ground and exposing them to the elements are ludicrous. its time we modernize our infrastructure, and put folks to work doing so. i guarantee it will save a lot of money in the long run, especially to those areas susceptible to huge storms.

    May 9, 2013 06:52 am at 6:52 am |
  10. GI Joe

    With all that money, I hope they bury the electric cables. There has to be more done than just one stomach surgery, er rebuilding the same things in the same places.

    May 9, 2013 07:17 am at 7:17 am |