Transmission Lines in Palm Springs, California

Jeff Stein works with David Gardiner & Associates in Washington, DC.

Recent threats to our electric grid, along with numerous studies, have highlighted the possibility of attacks on our electric grid infrastructure and the need for stronger grid defense.

Just as the balkanization of transmission policies, specifically siting and cost allocation, inhibit our potential to inject 21st Century clean energy sources into the grid, the fragmentation of grid security oversight exposes our nation’s bulk power infrastructure to detrimental cyber attacks.

H.R. 5026, the Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense Act (GRID Act), which passed the House of Representatives last month, calls for a more transparent and reliable defense mechanism for the bulk power system to protect against attacks on our grid.

The bill includes a number of provisions to establish a more transparent and streamlined process by which the President, the Department of Energy, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) can act to address existing or potential vulnerabilities. The bill also provides for FERC, the President, and the Department of Energy to respond immediately to an attack on the bulk power system. Some of the provisions include executive authority to address a grid security threat, which also allows FERC (under executive direction) in the wake of an imminent security threat to issue without notice, hearing, or report, emergency orders to protect necessary infrastructure. Also, if FERC identifies grid vulnerability, FERC is directed to issue a notice and opportunity for comment to promulgate a rule requiring implementation of protective measures.

The security provisions in H.R. 5026 show the need for federal backstop authority as well as interagency and multi-stakeholder cooperation to protect national security with modernized grid infrastructure. The mechanisms to establish a stronger federal framework to ensure grid security cements a clear role for FERC, the Department of Energy, and the President to work with key stakeholders in the bulk power system. A degree of oversight at the federal level facilitates the necessary improvements to our grid and develops a standardized emergency action plan.

While the security enabling mechanisms established in the GRID Act will no doubt enhance the government’s ability to protect Americans by securing our infrastructure, the overall message of the bill that a clear government role is needed for grid modernization should be carried over to other grid improvement initiatives. We must plan for grid infrastructure policies at the federal level with established transparency and accountability provisions for a modern, secure, and environmentally friendly bulk power system. Federal oversight of grid infrastructure initiatives will help the United States achieve its 21st Century national security and renewable energy goals, and similar oversight should be used when framing future grid legislation and regulations. This sort of coordination with solid transparency and accountability features are needed for an effective bulk power system. We must continue to follow this framework for federal oversight and multi-stakeholder coordination to establish a modern, secure, and environmentally friendly bulk power system.

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