069781_a6cf9071Industry experts recently testified before Congress that more needs to be done to protect the nation’s electric grid from natural disasters, cyberattacks, physical threats and planned sabotage. Recent news stories have highlighted cybersecurity issues, including analysis by USA Today that claims the U.S. Department of Energy’s computer systems were compromised more than 150 times between 2010-2014. And while cybersecurity is a persistent threat, physical damage to “critical infrastructure” facilities from severe storms, flooding, wildfires and even shootings has the potential for extensive and long-duration outages:

  • Critical high-voltage substations, while representing only 3% of all substations, carry the bulk of the nation’s electric power.
  • Large power transformers at these high voltage substations are particularly visible and thus vulnerable to attack, as evidenced by the sniper attack on the PG&E Metcalf substation in 2013, causing $15 million in damage.
  • Grid experts are also concerned about other high-impact, low-frequency events such as severe electromagnetic pulses and geomagnetic disturbances.

Critical infrastructure protection standards for physical grid security (CIP-014) were approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in January 2015, with the first key enforcement deadline for an assessment of critical assets required on October 1, 2015. Compliance with the new standards requires utilities to identify substations, control centers and transmission lines that if damaged could cause widespread outages and cascading grid failures. The next steps require utilities to identify potential threats and develop a plan to address these vulnerabilities such as perimeter protection, video surveillance, and restricting access.

While utilities implement measures to comply with CIP-014, the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee has unanimously backed a plan to create a national strategic reserve of large power transformers. Such a program would facilitate the replacement of damaged transformer equipment and faster restoration of power delivery.