Commentary

Electric Grid’s Lack of Resilience Poses Danger to Our Country

Frank Gaffney
By Frank Gaffney | October 25, 2017 | 2:04 PM EDT

(The New York Times YouTube Screenshot)

Among the most critical of those critical foreign and defense policy challenges are the various, looming threats to America’s electric grid. Consequently, from the time of the Commission on the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Threat’s first report to Congress in 2004 to the present day, the Center—like many other leaders in the national security arena—have been warning that the grid’s lack of resilience poses a potentially existential danger to our country.

This vulnerability can be exploited by enemies using a variety of techniques, including physical sabotage, cyberattack or electromagnetic pulse, which North Korea has repeatedly threatened to use against America in recent weeks.

Moreover, even if no one attacks our country, we are overdue for an intense geomagnetic disturbance that would create damage comparable to a nuclear EMP. Indeed, the earth narrowly missed one such solar storm in July 2012, avoiding a potentially catastrophic nationwide blackout. Finally, the recent loss of power to nearly 7.2 million Florida homes and businesses in the wake of Hurricane Irma; the blackout-induced explosions at Texas-based chemical plants in the wake of Hurricane Harvey; and the nearly complete loss of Puerto Rico’s electric grid serving more than 3.4 million people in the wake of Hurricane Maria are but the latest, and particularly acute, reminders of what can happen to non-resilient power grids as a result of destructive terrestrial weather.

For all these reasons, the Center for Security Policy believes it is incumbent on the electric industry to build not just reliability but resilience into its operations, i.e., ensuring that critical parts of the electric grid—ranging from generation to transmission to distribution—can mitigate, survive and recover cost-effectively from these sorts of “high-impact threats.”

Seized as we are with the urgency with which our nation needs to address and prevent such calamities, it was very encouraging to read the DOE staff report which Energy Secretary Rick Perry released on August 23, 2017, as well as the notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) which DOE issued under Section 403 of the Department of Energy Act on September 29, 2017. It is apparent that Secretary Perry shares our assessment that we must urgently ensure the ability to achieve system restoration at electric power generation facilities as one key step in increasing electric grid resilience. Because the Secretary specified coal and nuclear power generation in his proposed rulemaking, he has received criticism by those who favor other sources of power generation, ranging from renewables to natural gas.

We suggest that the Secretary and FERC consider methods by which all businesses and organizations involved in electric power-generation, electric power transmission and electric power-distribution can be financially incentivized to build resilience into their operations. We understand there is a concern in some quarters that subsidizing certain power-generation methods could lead to more subsidies across the industry and to an undoing of competitive markets. Therefore, we suggest that, rather than introduce arbitrary subsidies, FERC provide a level playing-field for all parties involved by creating a “resilient capacity credit (RCC)” within every regional transmission organization (RTO) and independent system operations (ISO) market.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is President of the Center for Security Policy (www.SecureFreedom.org), a columnist for the Washington Times and host of the nationally syndicated program, Secure Freedom Radio, heard in Washington weeknights at 9:00 p.m. on WRC 1260 AM.

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