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Although it is doubtful that voters entered the booths with utilities in mind, Barack Obama's next four years in office will likely continue to affect the industry regarding renewable energy, smart grid initiatives and cybersecurity.

It is no secret that President Obama has a strong stance on renewables. During the presidential debates, he noted that the U.S. doubled renewable energy production since he first took office, and he also called for energy independence.

“We’ve got to control our own energy, you know - not only oil and natural gas, which we’ve been investing in - but also, we’ve got to make sure we’re building the energy sources of the future,” Obama said at the second presidential debate. “Not just thinking about next year, but 10 years from now, 20 years from now. That’s why we’ve invested in solar and wind and biofuels, energy-efficient cars.”

President Obama has also backed incentives for the renewable energy industry. For example, he has pledged full support for the extension of the production tax credit (PTC), a key incentive for the wind power industry that is set to expire at the end of the year. In May, he issued Congress a “To Do List” that included the PTC’s renewal. All efforts made by members of Congress to extend the PTC, however, have failed thus far.

On the solar front, Obama has gained recognition as a strong industry supporter. Today, Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, issued a statement congratulating Obama’s election win and praising the administration’s policies.

“To date, the Obama administration has created and supported pro-solar policies that have been vital to the success of the industry,” Resch said, adding that since 2008, solar generation has grown by 400% - from 280 MW in 2008 to more than 5,700 MW today.

Frank Maisano, an energy analyst at Bracewell & Giuliani's Policy Resolution Group, believes that Obama will continue his renewable energy efforts.

“Will we be able to do what the environmental community wants us to do - totally revamp our economy based on a clean energy agenda in the short term? Probably not,” he tells Renew Grid. “But certainly, the president is going to keep that a high priority in his approach. It has positive environmental and economic impacts that I expect we’ll continue to see in the next four years.”

Renewable energy aside, the administration has shown that it plans to protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions - a potential policy that could have a big effect on how utilities generate or obtain power. In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a Clean Air Act standard for carbon pollution from new power plants. The proposed rule, though, does not apply to existing units already operating or units that will start construction by March 2013.

Smart grid initiatives also saw a huge boost since Obama began his presidency. As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) created the Smart Grid Investment Grant program, which invested approximately $3.4 billion in about 100 grid-modernization projects.

In September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the department had reached its $250 million goal to finance smart grid projects among rural electric cooperatives and utilities. Since that achievement, the USDA has issued millions of additional dollars for such initiatives.

The Obama administration also made some moves forward on cybersecurity. In January, the DOE launched the Electric Sector Cybersecurity Risk Management Maturity project, an initiative that aims to protect the electric grid from cybersecurity threats.

In June, as part of the project, the DOE introduced the Cybersecurity Self-Evaluation Survey Tool, which the department says helps electric utilities and grid operators identify opportunities to further develop their own cybersecurity capabilities. Additionally, the administration supported the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, but Senate Republicans blocked the legislation in August.

Maisano says cybersecurity will remain a discussion point among the industry, and he hopes that the government will keep working toward making the grid as safe and reliable as it can be.

“Cybersecurity is one of those areas where we have to be vigilant,” he says. “The utility industry is working progressively to protect their grid.”

Moving forward, it is uncertain whether the Obama administration will continue its efforts to develop renewable energy, modernize the nation’s grid and protect utilities from cybersecurity threats. But Maisano explains that utilities need not concern themselves with election results.

“The utility and renewable energy industries may have their favorite candidates, but when the ballots are counted, they still have to produce and provide reliable, affordable energy,” he says. “They have to deal with the hand they’ve been dealt. They adjust.”





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