Posts Tagged ‘US power grid’

Here’s an update to an earlier post (US power grid problems from multiple threats) from June 10, 2011: https://tapister.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/us-power-grid-problems-from-multiple-threats/ Read that post first for more background and links.

 A view of the U.S. power grid from inside of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas's command center in Taylor, Texas. REUTERS

A view of the U.S. power grid from inside of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’s command center in Taylor, Texas. REUTERS

Small-scale power grid attack could cause nationwide blackout, study says
FoxNews.com online
Published March 13, 2014

The U.S. could suffer a national blackout if attackers knocked out just nine of the country’s electric-transmission substations on a hot summer day, according to a previously unreported study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The study concluded that coordinated attacks in each of the nation’s three separate electric systems could cause the entire power network to collapse, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, citing people familiar with the agency’s research.

The commission concluded that the three electrical systems that serve the entire nation could go dark if as few as nine of the country’s 55,000 electric-transmission substations were knocked out in the East, the West and in Texas, according to the report.

“This would be an event of unprecedented proportions,” Ross Baldick, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, told the newspaper.

According to Wall Street Journal, study’s results have been known for months by the White House, Congress and officials at federal agencies, who were briefed by then-FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff and others at the commission.

Wellinghoff has voiced concerns about an April 2013 attack on Pacific Gas & Electric’s transmission substation in Metcalf, Calif., that lasted 52 minutes and knocked out 17 transformers.

The attack started when at least one person entered an underground vault to cut telephone cables, then attackers fired more than 100 shots, causing millions in damage. Workers were able to avert a blackout but it took them 27 days to repair the damage.

No arrests have been made in the case.

A memo prepared at the commission for Wellinghoff before he briefed senior officials last year said “the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer” if attackers knocked out just nine substations.

The California attack “demonstrates that it does not require sophistication to do significant damage to the U.S. grid,” according to the memo, which was written by Leonard Tao, FERC’s director of external affairs, and reviewed by The Journal.

The memo suggested that an attack-induced blackout could be particularly long, in part because each of the three regional electric systems—the West, the East and Texas—have limited interconnections, limiting their ability to assist each other in the event of an emergency, The Journal reported.

Executives at several utility companies told the newspaper they are boosting security at their facilities. Virginia-based Dominion Resources Inc., said it planned to spend $300 million to $500 million within seven years to improve security capabilities.

Cheryl LaFleur, acting chairwoman of the FERC, said in a statement released late Wednesday that The Journal’s 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.”

“We take seriously our obligation to the American people to protect the reliability and security of our nation’s energy infrastructure and to enhance its resilience,” LaFleur said.

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/03/13/us-risks-national-blackout-from-power-grid-attack-study-says/

https://tapister.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/us-power-grid-problems-from-multiple-threats/

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The Congressman who went off the grid
Roscoe Bartlett spent 20 years on Capitol Hill. Now he lives in a remote cabin in the woods, prepping for doomsday.
By JASON KOEBLER
Politico online, 3 January 2014

roscoebartlett

Dr. Roscoe Bartlett entered public service after “…a science career that saw him go through IBM in its start-up years and the U.S. Navy as an engineer, before becoming director of the Space Life Sciences research group at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where he helped the U.S. win the space race by, among other things, developing a device that allows astronauts to breathe at high altitudes and low temperatures.”

When Roscoe Bartlett was in Congress, he latched onto a particularly apocalyptic issue, one almost no one else ever seemed to talk about: America’s dangerously vulnerable power grid. If the United States doesn’t do something to protect the grid, and soon, a terrorist or an act of nature will put an end to life as we know it.

Bartlett loved to conjure doomsday visions: Think post-Sandy New York City without power but spread over a much larger area for months at a time. He once recounted a conversation he claimed to have had with unnamed Russian officials about how they could take out the United States: They would “detonate a nuclear weapon high above your country,” he recalled them saying, “and shut down your power grid — and your communications — for six months or so.”

(Retired from office now) …. Having failed to safeguard the power grid for the rest of the country, Bartlett has taken himself completely off the grid.

Bartlett'sCabin
I visited Bartlett this past fall. During the four hours he spends showing me around, Bartlett continually stresses his reliance on only very basic technology to make his little corner of West Virginia livable — the solar panels and the batteries they charge, the power inverters, the water pipes and the wood stoves.

Bartlett tells me that the farm’s simplicity is a challenge, but it’s also an insurance policy. If he were to die, he says, his wife might not be able to repair more complicated technology. And besides, he tells me, if he used higher-tech power inverters “loaded with computers and chips and stuff,” they might fail, and then they’d be in trouble. I ask why that would be an issue — couldn’t they just drive to the nearest town to pick one up or order a new one off the Internet? “I have no idea,” he answers. “A giant solar storm? EMPs?”

EMP is shorthand for electromagnetic pulse, an electronic disturbance that can be delivered by a warhead — nuclear or otherwise — and that can instantly short out electrical equipment for as long as months at a time. For survivalists of Bartlett’s bent, it is one of the terrifying threats against which all this living off the land is designed to protect.

As Bartlett points out to me, every single one of America’s 17 critical infrastructure systems — food and agriculture, water and sewer, transportation, emergency services and so on — are useless without electricity. Here in West Virginia, running a power system completely independent of the municipality, he’s safe in the event of a massive outage. (His wife also notes helpfully that at 4,000 feet, “an awful lot of the country could get flooded before it gets here.”)

And EMPs aren’t the only source of Bartlett’s concern. In 1859, the sun unleashed a flare — a powerful storm of energy — in the direction of the Earth. The charged particles from the storm lit telegraph wires on fire and put others out of commission for months. That storm is now known as the “Carrington Event,” after Dr. Joseph Carrington, the man who studied it. Such storms are estimated to occur once every 150 years — which means we’re overdue for another one…

A similar event today could knock out the power grid between Washington and New York for up to two years, according to a June report by Lloyd’s, a British group that assesses risk for insurance companies.

In the last 36 months, there have been solar storms strong enough to disrupt GPS satellites, threaten the International Space Station and knock crucial military satellites offline for a few minutes. Stronger storms would damage or destroy electronics on Earth for an unknown period of time, and an EMP would have a similar effect. According to Bartlett, a terrorist with a “$100,000 Scud launcher and any crude nuclear weapon” could detonate a bomb above the atmosphere and knock out power for more than a year.

There are ways to “harden,” or protect, electrical transformers and other infrastructure, but doing so is costly. After a solar storm knocked out power in Quebec for 12 hours in 1989, the Canadian government invested $1.2 billion in hardening its grid, but no similar actions have been taken in the United States.

Read the entire article — it’s well worth the time. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/01/roscoe-bartlett-congressman-off-the-grid-101720.html#.UsgUaPu8qAp

June 9, 2011

The U.S. electric grid is a complex network of independently owned and operated power plants and transmission lines. Aging infrastructure, combined with a rise in domestic electricity consumption, has forced experts to critically examine the status and health of the nation’s electrical systems.

Here is an informative website on the United States power grid system, with numerous maps: http://www.solcomhouse.com/uspowergrid.htm

Right now various components of the United States power grid are experiencing problems from multiple threats.

(1) Arizona Wallow Fire Approaching Power Supplies to Two States (New Mexico and Texas)
Christian Post online June 9, 2011

Firefighters have battled through the night in an attempt to protect numerous Arizona mountain communities from the spreading Wallow fire that has forced thousands to evacuate and flee their homes.

The fire has now become the second largest ever seen in Arizona, and is threatening electricity supplies as far away as Texas.

http://www.christianpost.com/news/arizona-wallow-fire-approaching-power-supplies-to-two-states-51002/

(2) Extreme weather is causing scattered power outages across Canada and the United States, including Michigan, Illinois, Connecticut, New York, Masssachusetts, Virginia, and others. Some power grids have increased problems due to outdated infrastructure, such as Detroit:

Downtown Detroit left in the dark after power malfunction
Detroit Free Press online 9 June 2011

A major malfunction Thursday at the beleaguered Detroit Public Lighting Department knocked out Fire Department phones and power to traffic lights, municipal buildings, courts, schools and the People Mover, prompting fears that traffic snarls, widespread outages and disruptions likely would continue through tonight.

http://www.freep.com/article/20110610/NEWS01/106100445/Downtown-Detroit-left-dark-after-power-malfunction?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

From The Detroit News: City spokeswoman Karen Dumas said the outage was caused by extreme power demand for air conditioning after two days in the 90s.

http://detnews.com/article/20110609/METRO/106090463/Officials-say-heat-caused-Detroit-power-outage#ixzz1OrSpMtuC

(3) This Week’s Solar Flare Illuminates the Grid’s Vulnerability
New York Times online June 9, 2011

A massive burst of solar wind that erupted from the sun Tuesday is expected to deliver only a “glancing blow” to the Earth’s vulnerable magnetic field, NASA officials said yesterday. But it will preview what some experts call a potentially existential threat to the power grids of the United States and other nations, and the populations that depend on them.

http://www.nytimes.com/cwire/2011/06/09/09climatewire-this-weeks-solar-flare-illuminates-the-grids-63979.html

(4) Cyber Attack on U.S. Electric Grid ‘Gravest Short Term Threat’ to National Security, Lawmakers Say
ABC News May 31, 2011

ABC News’ Huma Khan reports: The United States is ill-prepared to deal with a cyber attack on the nation’s electric grid, one of the biggest national security threats facing the country today, lawmakers warned.

“The sobering reality is this vulnerability, if left unaddressed, could have grave, societal-altering consequences,” Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee today. “We face a menace that may represent the gravest short term threat to the peace and security of the human family in the world today.”

Experiments by federal agencies in recent years have shown that cyber spies have intruded the U.S. electric system, and that it’s increasingly susceptible to attacks by hackers and foreign governments.

http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenote/2011/05/cyber-attack-on-us-electric-grid-gravest-short-term-threat-to-national-security-lawmakers-say.html

Electricity Grid in U.S. Penetrated By Spies
Wall Street Journal online
April 8, 2009

WASHINGTON — Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.

The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven’t sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war.

The espionage appeared pervasive across the U.S. and doesn’t target a particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland Security official.

Authorities investigating the intrusions have found software tools left behind that could be used to destroy infrastructure components, the senior intelligence official said.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123914805204099085.html#ixzz1OrfUR1R4