DOE Official Details Agency's Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

June 9, 2020

by Paul Ciampoli
APPA News Director

Supporting virus research, securing critical infrastructure and stabilizing the energy markets are all key actions that the Department of Energy has taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mark Menezes, Under Secretary of Energy, said on June 8.

He made his remarks on the first day of the American Public Power Association’s Public Power Connect Virtual Summit and Business Meeting.

With respect to virus research, Menezes noted that “seven of the world class Department of Energy labs are partners in the COVID-19 high performance computing consortium. With DOE and IBM as co-chairs, this extraordinary effort brings together leaders in government, industry and academia to provide access to the world’s most powerful computing resources in support of coronavirus research.”

Along with their consortium-related work, the DOE’s national labs “are making significant strides against the virus in many other ways,” he said.

For example, researchers at Oak Ridge laboratory in Tennessee, scientists use Summit, the world’s fastest, smartest super computer to screen more than 8,000 drug compounds, finding 77 that have potential use in the fight for a cure through vaccines or therapeutics.

Menezes noted that one of the most crucial and ongoing missions of the DOE is securing critical energy infrastructure in ensuring energy resilience during national emergencies.

“During this pandemic, the stakes could not be higher. Hospitals and other frontline healthcare workers depend on an uninterrupted energy supply to run ventilators and other emergency services equipment,” he said.

“That’s why on January 31, we activated our energy response organization and tasked it with assessing, preparing for and providing awareness of issues that may require federal support,” he noted.

Menezes also commented on an executive order signed by President Trump on May 1 that authorizes U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette to work with the Cabinet and energy industry to secure the country’s bulk-power system (BPS).

“The first important action we will take under this executive order is to prohibit future use of BPS equipment which has a nexus with a foreign adversary and the failure of which would pose a risk to our national security and the safety of Americans,” the DOE official said.

“While some concerns have been raised about how the order will affect future infrastructure projects, I say to you today the Department will implement this order in a strategic, transparent, methodical way and we will work with industry throughout the process,” Menezes said, adding that the DOE looks forward to working with Joy Ditto, President and CEO of the American Public Power Association, and the rest of her team at APPA.

As for the third prong of the DOE’s response to the pandemic, Menezes noted that the DOE “took swift and decisive action to stabilize global energy markets.”

Senate panel approves nomination of Menezes

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on June 9 approved the nomination of Menezes to be Deputy Secretary of the DOE.

Menezes was nominated to the Deputy Secretary position in February. Menezes’ nomination now awaits further consideration by the full Senate.