Right Wing Terror Targeting Grid

January 27, 2022

Clean energy activists have been warning about grid security since the 70s, at least.
At the state level, Russia already showed some years ago the ability to infiltrate and sabotage the grid in Ukraine, for instance.
Sub-state actors also capable of major disruptions.
Islandable micrograms become more practical with penetration of distributed energy systems. Above, Marine General Richard Zilmer (ret) was former Commander of US Forces in Anbar Province, Iraq. I paired him with Kevin Beeson, a thoughtful local official in Gratiot County, MI, home to several good-size wind farms.

Utility Dive:

  • Domestic terrorists have developed “credible, specific plans” to attack the U.S. power grid and view it as a “particularly attractive target given its interdependency with other infrastructure sectors,” according to a security briefing issued Monday by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and first reported by The Daily Beast.
  • The alert warned of “physical damage” to electrical infrastructure, raising the specter of the 2013 sniper attack on Pacific Gas & Electric’s Metcalf substation that damaged 17 transformers.
  • The long lead time needed to replace large transformers is a threat to U.S. grid resilience, and in 2015 Congress directed the creation of a strategic reserve for critical power system equipment. “Congress would be wise to revisit this program and ensure that it properly addresses the risks we face today,” Mark Carrigan, cyber vice president of process safety and operational technology cybersecurity at Hexagon PPM, said in an email

Electric utilities say they are prepared for both physical and cyber attacks on their systems, and that the DHS warning is not a surprise.

“The threat of physical attacks targeting critical infrastructure is not new,” Edison Electric Institute (EEI) Vice President for Security and Preparedness Scott Aaronson said in a statement. Industry coordination with government partners “helps to ensure vigilance and gives us the ability to respond quickly should situations evolve.”

“Threats of this type and many others from a wide range of extreme groups are an ongoing risk and something states have worked to address” by collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and other federal authorities, National Association of State Energy Officials Executive Director David Terry said in an email.

EEI, which represents investor-owned utilities, has a security partnership with the government through its CEO-led Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council which allows power companies to “share actionable intelligence and to prepare to respond to incidents” that could impact the grid, said Aaronson.

DOE’s Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response office “has proven to be an exceptional partner for the states and energy industry in dealing with these issues,” Terry said.

The DHS warning of “physical damage” is a reminder of the Metcalf attack almost a decade ago. Though the grid impacts were modest, $15 million in damage was done by more than 100 rifle shots and the attacker was never found.

“The major concern is that large transformers, which are critical to grid operations, have a long lead time from order to delivery, often longer than 12 months,” Carrigan said in an email.

A widespread outage is “unlikely,” Carrigan said, unless the attackers have specific grid knowledge and carry out a coordinated attack at dispersed locations. But “the potential for a prolonged outage is possible depending upon the scope of an attack,” he said.

In 2015 President Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which included plans to develop a strategic reserve of transmission equipment. In 2017 DOE released a report outlining the creation of the reserve and recommending an industry-led approach.

“The results delivered by this program are not clear,” Carrigan said, adding that lawmakers may need to ensure the transmission equipment reserve can address growing risks to the grid.

Grid Assurance, which is owned by American Electric Power, Berkshire Hathaway Energy and FirstEnergy, is an industry-led initiative to stockpile long-lead-time transmission equipment. The company announced in September that it had completed acquisition of its initial inventory “with the arrival of the last three power transformers to complete the asset roster.”

“All utilities have to be on their game from a defensive standpoint, but you also have to put yourself in the best possible position to restore the grid quickly should something catastrophic occur,” Grid Assurance CEO David Rupert said in a statement.


India is discussing a plan to create so-called power islanding systems in several cities to protect critical infrastructure from potential attacks on the electricity grid, power minister Raj Kumar Singh said.

Cities including Bengaluru, known as India’s Silicon Valley, and Jamnagar, which has two of India’s largest oil refineries, are among cities being assessed for an islanding system, Singh told lawmakers in parliament Thursday. Existing systems in cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai are being revamped, he said.

The plan follows a major power outage in India’s financial hub Mumbai last year that brought the city to a halt and prompted speculation about a cyber attack. The year before, the country’s nuclear power monopoly reported computer systems at one of its generation plants had been attacked by malware. Power grids the world over are increasingly digitalized, leaving them vulnerable to such attacks.

Islanding systems feature generation capacity and can isolate automatically from the main grid in the event of an outage. For the new systems, provinces need to submit proposals for setting up generation and storage capacities, Singh said in his written comments Thursday.

The strategy was questioned in some quarters.

“Islanding entire cities is a very 20th-century idea,” said Reji Pillai, president of the India Smart Grid Forum, which advises the government and utilities on smart grid technologies. “Where’s the space in Bengaluru for setting up new generation plants, and without adequate generation capacity within the islanded area what is the purpose of islanding?”

Instead, Pillai recommended smart microgrids for isolating smaller areas, such as commercial and industrial complexes, shopping malls, airports, defense units, railway stations and hospitals. The system would be connected to the main network and could isolate automatically in the event of an outage. The microgrids would run on a mix of battery and rooftop solar power, he said.

One Response to “Right Wing Terror Targeting Grid”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    The Internet is a great model for the type of resilience we want in an energy web. Data transmission automatically routes around downed connections, whether from sabotage, weather, or accident.

    Of course, even the Internet has its little cul-de-sacs of connectivity, but overall it’s pretty reliable within the industrialized democracies.

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