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Why the Grid Is Not Safe and What Can Be Done

In an interview with Frank Gaffney, Ronald Reagan’s former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy, Dr. Peter Huessy of the the American Foreign Policy Council explains why the U.S. electrical grid is neither safe nor properly protected from solar storms.  (Go to bottom of this article to listen to audio clip of interview.)

What has been done to protect critical infrastructure from solar storms? Concerning the electrical industry’s role in preparing themselves for a Geomagnetic Disturbance event (GMD), Huessy summarizes that, “with all the work over four years to get them to address it, we’re back to square one.”

Under a requirement by federal regulators to show how private industry partners protect their parts of the nation’s critical infrastructure, the electrical industry’s association (NERC) submitted a non-peer reviewed scenario which redefined the GMD threat in place of existing established data.

In contrast, the Idaho National Lab, which has a metropolitan-scale energy grid for such testing, is reporting more problems with solar storms than expected.

“I learned Yesterday that Idaho National Labs did a test of a substitute grid. What would happen with solar storms? They thought originally that just transformers would go down. They have now found out there are two additional problems. The generating capacity, meaning coal fired plants and nuclear fired plants, would also go down. But then there is another kicker. The customer’s technology, meaning data centers, power pumps, the things people use that actually get their electricity from coal, nuclear, or gas, they would go down as well. It’s called ‘customer equipment’. So customer equipment goes down, the generating system goes down, and the transformers all go down.”, Huessy stated.

The INL’s assessment of the GMD threat to the electric grid is the latest of the established consensus that contradicts the electrical industries characterization of the GMD threat.

Solar flares and sunspot cycles could disturb or even interrupt power and communications systems for extended periods of time. That has been the concern of many federal agencies, the U.S. Congress and especially the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies.

“This year, 2013, is projected to be a period of maximum activity in the current solar storm cycle,” said Dr. Carl Kutsche, who manages Strategic Technology Integration at Idaho National Laboratory. “Although the current solar cycle is predicted to be less intense on average than previous cycles, solar activity spikes that occur during the maximum of any cycle can be significant. These intense spikes have been responsible for disruption and damage to electrical grids in the past, even causing damage to transformers and interrupting grid operations.” – Keith Arterburn, INL Communications & Governmental Affairs

Listen to Frank Gaffney’s interview of Dr. Peter Huessy below: