Terror Attack on Nine Powerplants Could Cause 18 Month US Power BlackoutPeak oil doom? How about imported refugee terrorist doom?.
There are approximately 55,000 power stations and over 160,000 miles of transmission lines which collectively make up the power grid which supplies the United States with its electricity. This grid interconnects all of the generating and transfer capacity in such a way as to be extremely vulnerable to a limited, synchronized attack. Expert reports indicate an attack targeting as few as nine stations could have a catastrophic effect on the system as a whole.
In April of last year, what is suspected and feared as having been a trial run for something much bigger took place in San Jose, CA. In that case, 17 towers were shot up, resulting in a facility being disabled for 27 days. While the public-consumption version of the event downplayed the threat as vandalism, informed sources made a quite different determination. Evidence from an investigation clearly suggests a terrorism event.
Just as the events of September 11th forever changed the mobility of Americans and compromised our freedoms on many levels, a similar event attacking multiple grid points could prove to be even more devastating.
There are three main regional electrical systems in the United States, the West, the East and Texas. At the heart of the vulnerability are electric-transmission substations.
The resulting outage from an attack could last a minimum of eighteen months and probably longer. The impact would essentially send the United States back to the 1800’s with the added negative factor of having a population largely incapable of off-grid survival. Everything from water and fuel pumps to food refrigeration capabilities and distribution are dependent upon the electrical grid.
The results of an extended power outage would be catastrophic and would forever alter the complexion and future of America.
The findings of a study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission were reported in The Wall Street Journal.
In a June 2013 memo just released, Leonard Tao, Director of External Affairs for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) wrote, “Destroy nine interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer and the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer.”
A critical issue in such an attack is the difficulty in replacing transformers. They are time-consuming and expensive to produce, with a limited amount of production facilities.
Collectively, the three electrical regions have only a limited amount of interconnections, making it difficult for one unit to share resources with another in a time of crisis.
A.P. “Sakis” Meliopoulos, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Atlanta’s Georgia Institute of Technology verified the findings. He stated, “This study used a relatively simplified model, but other models come to the same conclusion.” He thought it would require “a slightly larger number” of substation attacks blackout the nation.
For the purpose of its modeling, FERC studied the simulated various configurations and other variables, such as time of year, time of day, temperature, etc. The loss of as few as four substations in the East, three in the West and two in Texas proved enough to take down the grid in some scenarios.
The threat response is not as simple as just protecting nine substations. Roughly thirty stations meet the target criteria, but less than one third would actually need to be attacked for the grid to be taken down. While other experts put the figure higher, closer to one hundred, the same concerns and threat exists regardless of the exact figures.
Former FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff wrote of the vulnerability in an email to the Wall Street Journal saying, “There are probably less than 100 critical high voltage substations on our grid in this country that need to be protected from a physical attack. It is neither a monumental task, nor is it an inordinate sum of money that would be required to do so.”
Industry security emphasis and protocols presently focus on nuclear power stations rather than dealing with standard electricity.
Most power stations are owned and operated by private companies, with security measures at many as simple as surveillance cameras and chain-link fences. Additionally, many locations are remote and vulnerable to attack, requiring substantial response times and minimal or no staffing.
While presently no federal regulations require specific levels of security at substations, they are currently under review. FERC has set a June deadline for proposals to increase security at critical electrical facilities.