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How Maine Can Lead the Way in Protecting the Grid from Geomagnetic Superstorms

Peter Pry (Bangor Daily News): Unknown to the people of Maine, their state has become the focus of national and international attention. Will the Maine Public Utilities Commission act on a resolution passed by the state Legislature, championed by Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford, that would protect the state electric grid from natural or manmade electromagnetic pulse?

At stake is no less than the survival of the United States.

Ambassador R. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, has weighed in supporting the Boland Resolution and appealing to the Public Utilities Commission to protect the Maine grid.

Woolsey writes: “Never before in history has a Public Utility Commission had such an opportunity to contribute to the overall national security of the United States as does the PUC for the state of Maine today. ‘As goes Maine so goes the Nation’ — and the old nostrum is turning out to be true not only for presidential elections but for national EMP preparedness.”

Natural electromagnetic pulse can be caused by a solar flare striking the Earth’s magnetosphere, generating a geomagnetic storm that can blackout electricity and all critical infrastructures — communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water — that sustain modern civilization. Such a storm, called the Hydro-Quebec Storm, blacked out half of Canada and parts of New England in 1989, costing billions.

An electromagnetic pulse can also be caused by a nuclear weapon. If nuclear terrorists or a rogue state detonated a single nuclear warhead 400 kilometers above the center of the United States, it could black out the entire nation for months or years.

Scientists are concerned about recurrence of a geomagnetic superstorm like the 1859 Carrington Event, estimated to occur about once every century. According to Dr. William Graham, President Ronald Reagan’s science adviser and chairman of a congressional electromagnetic pulse commission, if a Carrington Event happened today, it would blackout critical infrastructures worldwide, putting at risk the lives of billions.

The National Academy of Sciences warns that even recurrence of the 1921 Railroad Storm (estimated to be only one-tenth as powerful as Carrington) could cause a national blackout lasting four to 10 years.

A 2013 interim report by the Foundation for Resilient Societies finds that Maine and the other New England states, because of their northern latitude and geology, are particularly vulnerable to catastrophic blackout from a geomagnetic storm.

The good news is that the Maine electric grid can be protected from electromagnetic pulse, at low cost, according to the report: “The estimated equipment cost to protect the Maine grid high-voltage transformers from solar storms would be $4.2 million, or only one-third of 1 percent” of the cost of expansion currently planned for the Maine grid.

No less than seven major congressional and U.S. government studies have all warned that a natural or nuclear electromagnetic pulse poses an existential threat to national survival. There is also a consensus among these studies that the national electric grid can be protected at affordable cost.

Congress has repeatedly tried to pass legislation requiring the electric power industry to protect the national electric grid. But the North American Electric Reliability Corporation — the powerful lobby for the electric power industry — has blocked bills such as the SHIELD Act from a vote.

Senior statesmen and security experts now look to the state of Maine to lead the nation in the right direction.

The hope is that, if Maine proceeds to protect its electric grid as proposed in the Boland Resolution, other states will follow, perhaps finally breaking gridlock in Washington.

Consequently, Ambassador Henry Cooper, former director of the Strategic Defense Initiative, and Vice Admiral Robert Monroe, former director of the Defense Nuclear Agency, have joined Ambassador Woolsey in urging Maine officials to implement the Boland Resolution.

Woolsey rightly likens the stakes in Maine to the Battle of Gettysburg: “Men from the 20th Maine defended the hill little Round Top in the Battle of Gettysburg, in an action widely regarded by historians as the decisive moment that saved the Union. Now Public Utility Commissions and electricity providers are in the frontlines of the cyber battlefield, where EMP is the heavy artillery of cyber warfare, and Maine by quirk of fate or chance has again become the hinge of history.”

Originally posted at The Bangor Daily News

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, a congressional advisory board, and served in the Congressional EMP Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA.