Cyberattack on U.S. power grid must trigger coordinated action
With irrefutable proof in hand that hackers have penetrated the U.S. electricity supply system, and the tragic situation in Puerto Rico reminding us that life without electricity is harsh — not only no lights, but no banks, ATMs, internet or communications, limited food and water supplies, hospitals unable to provide services — it is welcome news that the Department of Energy has established a new office dedicated to cyber and energy security, and emergency response.
Now it needs to make it work, and the sooner the better.
Following the leadership of Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., in securing funding for the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response, DOE should act swiftly to appoint and empower an assistant secretary with the knowledge and experience to identify and address near-term, high-probability threats to our electric grid — especially a large-scale cyber-attack — and to do so quickly and transparently.
DOE faces a huge challenge in wrapping its arms around the sprawling U.S. electric supply system and the thousands of companies, regulatory agencies and associations that own, operate, regulate and control what has been called the largest machine in the world — the approximately 5,800 power plants and more than 2.7 million miles of power lines that form the U.S. electric grid.
And driving major improvements to the grid may also require a willingness by DOE to upset the status quo. While the traditional electric utility industry is making efforts to strengthen the grid, it needs to do so more rapidly and transparently. Given the urgency of our situation — foreign hackers inside our power supply control centers, able to damage or shut down the grid — federal leadership and oversight is necessary and warranted.
Fixing our national grid vulnerabilities is a huge challenge in need of highly innovative solutions, including breakthrough technology to make those solutions possible and keep our lights and communications on, our factories working, our grocery stores and hospitals open, and our security intact.
DOE must aggressively lead a national effort to tap quickly into and bring together the resources of Homeland Security, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, among others, to focus on four imperatives:
n Rapidly identifying exactly where critical grid improvements and upgrades are needed.
n Implementing a national plan to drive key short- and long-term grid improvements.
n Developing necessary regulatory reforms to ensure that our bulk power system can repel the imminent and emerging threats we face.
n Working with Congress to establish the public and private funding mechanisms, including the use of tax-exempt government bonds, to fund these critical improvements and protect our national security and welfare.