On June 11, 2013, the State of Maine passed the first legislation in the nation to protect the electric grid against electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and geomagnetic disturbance (GMD). EMP’s, such as high-altitude nuclear explosions, and GMD’s, such as major solar flares and storms, have the potential to critically disrupt or destroy the electric grid. In March 1989, a moderate solar storm hit Quebec, Canada, causing a province-wide blackout that cost two billion dollars in direct damage, and scattered effects throughout the northeast United States. The Maine legislation that I sponsored, LD 131, “Directing the Public Utilities Commission To Examine Measures To Mitigate the Effects of Geomagnetic Disturbances and Electromagnetic Pulse on the State’s Transmission System,” passed unanimously in the House and 32-3 in the Senate.
LD 131 requires that the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) examine the vulnerabilities of the State’s transmission infrastructure to the potential negative impacts of a geomagnetic disturbance or electromagnetic pulse capable of disabling, disrupting or destroying a transmission and distribution system, identify potential mitigation measures, and report back to the legislature. The bill also directs the PUC to actively monitor efforts by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation to develop reliability standards related to GMD and EMP. The report is due back to the Legislature on January 20, 2014, with authority to submit a bill to that session of the Legislature, based on the report.
The effort in Maine to protect the grid from GMD and EMP began in 2012 but stalled the first year. On February 19, 2013, the Joint Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Technology (EUT) heard LD 131, “An Act to Secure the Safety of Electrical Transmission Lines.” This original version of the bill required that anyone submitting a petition to the Public Utilities Commission for the purposes of building a transmission line include a description of design measures to insure the protection against damage from EMP and GMD.
The passed bill was more modest than originally proposed, but should provide a strong foundation for moving forward. Its near unanimous passage showed that state legislatures can readily understand the need for EMP/GMD legislation and are willing to act, despite strong opposition from electric utilities.
- Do you think geomagnetic disturbance (GMD) protection would be effective for a single state or would a consistent national standard be necessary?
- Cost estimates for nationwide protection against GMD have been estimated at $.20 to $1.50 per customer, per year. Would that cost deter you from supporting mitigation?
- Have you seen a cost comparison between operating procedures in response to threatening solar storms and installation of protective equipment?
- Operating procedures for responding to fast-moving GMD threats require human response on short notice with imperfect information. Is it realistic to expect utilities to power down the grid in advance of a severe solar storm?