GAO on climate change and power grid case

The Government Accountability Office has been called on by Congress to have a look at the how well the nation’s energy infrastructure can handle the ramifications of climate change.

The Senate Environment and Public Works committee’s Oversight Subcommittee and the Senate Finance Committee requested the work, according to a letter sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission a week ago. It was one of eight sent to various agencies and offices including the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The request comes on the heels of record heat and drought through much of the country this summer that stressed many water-based cooling systems used at nearly all U.S. power plants. Most notably – Connecticut’s Millstone Nuclear Power Station’s Unit 2 shut down for 12 days because of higher than allowed intake-water temperatures in Long Island Sound. It was the first nuclear shutdown ever for that reason.

A number of conventional and nuclear plants, including Vermont Yankee, had to reduce power. Yankee operations were reduced by as much as 17 percent because of high water temperature and low water flow in the Connecticut River. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont sits on the oversight subcommittee, though it is not clear that this summer’s incidents prompted the subcommittee’s request.

The letter to the NRC outlines three areas of assessment: known energy infrastructure vulnerabilities to climate change, how extensively potential climate change impacts are being considered in planning and oversight on the federal and state levels, and factors that influence how industry responds to those same impacts.

The timeline for getting all this done — unknown.