This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

June 26, 2002

U.S. Electrical Grid Faces Terrorist and Wildfire Threats

A report issued on June 25th by the National Academies examines actions that the United States should take to detect, thwart, and respond to terrorist attacks. Among the actions identified are several to protect and prepare for attacks on the U.S. electrical grid. The report suggests that near-term actions could include the installation of physical barriers to help protect the grid from attack. In the long term, the report advises that DOE and its national laboratories take the lead and work with other government agencies and industry in developing, testing, and implementing an "intelligent," adaptive power grid. Such a system could, for example, use high-speed sensors and controls to isolate parts of the power grid during a system failure.

The report also suggests that DOE examine ways to temporarily replace extra-high-voltage transformers should they be damaged, that cybersecurity should be enhanced on power grid control systems, and that existing surveillance technologies used by defense and intelligence operations be investigated for their use in defending the U.S. energy infrastructure.

The National Academies report suggested that the U.S. scientific and engineering communities could provide continuing contributions to U.S. homeland defense, and recommended the creation of an independent Homeland Security Institute. See the National Academies press release as well as the full report.

The concept of an intelligent, adaptive power grid was proposed by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) back in 1999 as part of its Electricity Technology Roadmap Initiative.

While the National Academies try to anticipate future terrorist attacks, the largest near-term threat to the electrical grid in the West appears to be wildfires. In California, a fire south of Gorman knocked two 500-kilovolt transmission lines out of service on June 18th, forcing Southern California Edison to temporarily cut power to some of its commercial customers. The Rodeo-Chediski fire in Arizona is also threatening a 500-kilovolt transmission line there. In mid-June, the Hayman fire in Colorado also knocked out two transmission lines, but those have since been re-energized. See the press releases from APS and the California Independent System Operator (PDF 19 KB). Download Acrobat Reader.