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Blackout Risk to U.S. Electrical Grid from Potential Attack

The Wall Street Journal reported on a government study that found that the U.S. electrical grid is vulnerable to huge blackouts from even minor attacks by saboteurs. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission conducted a review of the electrical grid after last year’s attack on a California electrical substation. It found that even a small-scale attack could knock power offline for wide swathes of the country for weeks or even months.

FERC studied the situation and described in a memo the potential danger. "Destroy nine interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer and the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer," said the memo, which was reviewed by the WSJ. "This would be an event of unprecedented proportions," said Ross Baldick, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. FERC has ordered the industry to propose new safety standards at substations by June.

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According to former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, upgrading security at substations shouldn’t be inordinately difficult. "There are probably less than 100 critical high voltage substations on our grid in this country that need to be protected from a physical attack," Wellinghoff said in an email to the WSJ. "It is neither a monumental task, nor is it an inordinate sum of money that would be required to do so."

FERC, for its part, was not happy with the WSJ’s article. Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur issued a statement criticizing the WSJ for releasing sensitive information. “[t]he publication of other sensitive information is highly irresponsible. While there may be value in a general discussion of the steps we take to keep the grid safe, the publication of sensitive material about the grid crosses the line from transparency to irresponsibility, and gives those who would do us harm a roadmap to achieve malicious designs.”  

By James Burgess of Oilprice.com



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