Former CIA Director: U.S. Electric Grid ‘Tragedy of the Commons’

Friday, 01 Mar 2013 09:09 PM

By David Yonkman

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Former Director of Central Intelligence James Woolsey says the U.S. electrical grid holds Americans hostage to terror attacks because it has never been properly protected and remains highly vulnerable.

The CIA director under President Bill Clinton told guests at a Capitol Hill luncheon on Friday that the grid is fragile in that one component cannot be moved without impacting other components. Compounding the issue is that several agencies have a patchwork of jurisdiction with no central command and control.

“The authority over it is very uncertain and very unclear,” Woolsey said. “You have a tragedy of the commons problem.”

The solution he proposes is for the United States to become much more energy self-sufficient to the point of individual households harnessing solar energy from their rooftops and storing it in batteries in their basements.

Americans would still have a source of power if service was disrupted.

Otherwise, he said, it would only take an electromagnetic pulse from the sun or a nuclear weapon, a cyberattack or a single missile launched by an independent terrorist to cripple a metro area the size of New York or Los Angeles.

“The difference between having sun and solar is the difference between a minor inconvenience and having civilization undercut,” Woolsey said.

Woolsey also addressed the transportation “tax” that the U.S. pays to Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which command an estimated 78 percent of the world’s oil reserves.

He said that the dictatorships that lead the countries are able to extract petroleum out of the ground for $2 per barrel and sell it to the Western nations for $100 per barrel.

The U.S. needs to instead shift its focus to diversifying energy sources from agricultural products such as ethanol and integrate more natural gas sources into the fuel supply.

The only advantage that petroleum enjoys is that a large amount of energy can be contained in small volumes that allow for inexpensive shipping, he said.

“There are a number of issues on oil that we need to get on top of, and that’s just the beginning.”

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