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Protect the Electric Power Grid from the 'Bottom-up'

Protect the Electric Power Grid from the 'Bottom-up'

Henry F. Cooper By Friday, 30 April 2021 04:32 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Recent events indicate the "powers that be" are promoting initiatives alleged to assure the cybersecurity of the Bulk Power Grid—the electricity generation plants and the high voltage transmission lines. But that positive step ignores 90-percent of the overall grid and will not assure its viability.

In his Joint Session of Congress address, President Biden mentioned improving the electric grid, but his $8-billion plan to improve the grid focused on "renewable energy" infrastructure like wind and solar power—linked to his "climate change" agenda. A White House Fact Sheet discusses his plan and its potential for job creation—and hopes for congressional support.

This initiative could dovetail with growing bipartisan support for protecting the grid, as illustrated on last Sunday’s CNN State of the Union interview with Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Shelley Capito (R-WV) when they supported funding infrastructure improvements, including the electric grid.

They and others support infrastructure improvements that depend on electricity—but without addressing key vulnerabilities in our existing critical infrastructure that provide that electricity.

Most notably missing from these discussions has been required improvements to the Distribution Grid that delivers electricity to our military bases, Americans and their civil support—e.g., their homes, businesses, and associated critical infrastructure such as water-wastewater, hospitals, communications, security, emergency management, etc. Only the electric power generation plants and major transmission lines have been included.

The thus-far omitted Distribution Grid composes about 90-percent of the overall grid and about 70-percent of the cost of the nation’s combined distribution and transmission lines—as acknowledged by Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm in her confirmation hearing. And “end-use” customer loads must also be protected or protecting the grid is of little value.

Moreover, the current focus on cybersecurity omits the most horrific cyber threat included in the military doctrine of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran—the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that could be produced by one or a few high-altitude nuclear explosions.

I believe this failure to deal with the complete problem stems from two issues:

  • First, there is a misunderstanding that hardening the grid against EMP would be too expensive; and
  • Second, protecting the Distribution Grid would be complex and unwieldy because it is made up of many (thousands?) of small municipal power and co-op companies.

Furthermore, I have long believed these difficulties led to the fact that even though we know how to protect the entire grid, we have not done so. And why I believe we must address the problem "from the bottom-up"—from the local and state level, as I testified before the May 4, 2017 Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Then Chairlady Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) seemed to agree in her concluding comments.

About 5-years ago, the Lake Wylie Pilot Study was­ initiated to apply a “bottom-up” approach in considering the electric grid issues for Rock Hill, the fourth largest South Carolina city, and the rest of York County, SC.

Rock Hill is a suburb of Charlotte, NC—home of Duke Energy, one of the nation’s largest energy companies. Duke operates three electric power plants on Lake Wylie and supplies all electricity to York County. Nuclear and Hydroelectric power plants are in York County and a coal plant is in Gaston County, North Carolina.

Almost all of York County’s Distribution Grid is owned and operated by Rock Hill Municipal and York County Cooperative companies that provide electricity to support those who live and work in York County. Local city and county authorities and several nationally acknowledged authorities conducted a “bottom-up” study with active participation from Duke Energy engineers.

They assessed: 1) The York County Distribution Grid vulnerabilities; and 2) The cost to protect it to the same standards used for our most important military systems—and the bottom-line one-time cost was about $100 per York County citizen. While there would be minor annual costs to maintain grid hardness, protecting the grid is clearly affordable.

Moreover, as demonstrated in a 5-minute video prepared by David Tice to be included in an upcoming documentary "Grid Down, No Second Choice" that he and Patrea Patrick are developing, the citizens of York County and their leaders were involved in our Lake Wylie Pilot Study and support protecting their Distribution Grid—as does South Carolina’s Adjutant General who would be an important ally in exporting the lessons-learned throughout South and North Carolina and beyond.

Which brings to me to the fact that protecting the Distribution Grid is very complicated. For example, much of the South Carolina Distribution Grid is owned and managed by about 40 Municipal Power and Cooperative companies—and three companies that also involve bulk power grid components.

As key members of South Carolina’s Organization of Municipal Power Systems and the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, leaders of the operations in York County could, and I believe would, take their lessons-learned throughout South Carolina—and support efforts to extend these protective measures beyond South Carolina.

For $30 million, 1) The Lake Wylie Pilot Study results could be validated by actually protecting the York County Distribution Gird, including a communications link to key personnel in Columbia, SC—e.g., the Governor, the Adjutant General, Director of Emergency Management and others; and 2) A plan could be developed to export the SC lessons-learned to North Carolina and other states via the pertinent Adjutants Generals. A model example for them to follow.

I believe Duke Energy engineers, who have supported the Lake Wylie Pilot Study from the beginning, would support understanding how best to export pertinent boundary conditions and constraints associated with interfaces between the Bulk Power and Distribution Grids, as well as the myriad of Municipal Power and Cooperative companies—and interfaces with 50 public utility commissions that regulate the Distribution Grid.

By working from the "bottom-up," we can understand the problems and how best to deal with them to protect the nation’s Electric Power Grid owned and managed by 3000-4000 companies responsible for all Generation, Transmission and Distribution components of the grid.

Without doing so, we leave the American People vulnerable to an existential threat—that will occur one day due to a major solar eruption or potentially from a nuclear attack by Russia, China, North Korea or Iran.

Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Read Ambassador Cooper's Reports — More Here.

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Without doing so, we leave the American People vulnerable to an existential threat—that will occur one day due to a major solar eruption or potentially from a nuclear attack by Russia, China, North Korea or Iran.
Electric, Power Grid, Security
Friday, 30 April 2021 04:32 PM
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