United States Action

UnitedStatesAction
Yahoo Group

Back to Electrical Threats Page

 

Back to US Action Home Page

Electrical Grid Threats and Blackouts

Other Interesting Web Links

Resource for professionals in the power and electric transmission and distribution industry- Information on Ups, Uninterruptible power supply, AMR, automatic meter reading, test equipment, transformer test sets, transformers, power transformers, power line contraction, line poles, utility job, switches, switchgear, electrical connectors, energy consulting, SCADA, Data acquisition, ohmmeters, utility products, substations, transformers, underground cables, wood poles, steel poles, staking software,  reclosures, enclosures, relays, arrestors, flame resistant apparel, arc flash apparel, cap switchers, switchgears, automation software, routing software, GIS software, field data acquisition, infrared imaging, thermography.

==========================================================

Diagram showing the main interconnections of the U.S. electric power grid and the ten North American Electric Reliability Council regions.
The main interconnections of the U.S. electric power grid and the ten North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) regions. Note: The Alaska Systems Coordinating Council (ASCC) is an affiliate NERC member. (Source: North American Electric Reliability Council)

ECAR - East Central Area Reliability Coordination Agreement
ERCOT - Electric Reliability Council of Texas
FRCC - Florida Reliability Coordinating Council
MAAC - Mid-Atlantic Area Council
MAIN - Mid-America Interconnected Network
MAPP - Mid-Continent Area Power Pool
NPCC - Northeast Power Coordinating Council
SERC - Southeastern Electric Reliability Council
SPP - Southwest Power Pool
WSCC - Western Systems Coordinating Council

 

The Eastern and Western Interconnects have limited interconnections to each other, and the Texas Interconnect is only linked to the others via direct current lines. Both the Western and Texas Interconnects are linked with Mexico, and the Eastern and Western Interconnects are strongly interconnected with Canada. All electric utilities in the mainland United States are connected to at least one other utility via these power grids.

The grid systems in Hawaii and Alaska are much different than on the U.S. mainland. Alaska has an interconnected grid system, but it connects only Anchorage, Fairbanks, and the Kenai Peninsula. Much of the rest of the state depends on small diesel generators, although there are a few minigrids in the state as well. Hawaii also depends on minigrids to serve each island's inhabitants.

How does an automatic power system work when the grid power goes down?

The systems automatic transfer switch monitors incoming voltage from the grid or utility line.  When utility power is interrupted, the transfer switch senses the problem and signals the generator to begin supplying electricity.  The electrical circuits in your home or business are automatically disconnected from the utility power line and reconnected to your unit which continues to supply electricity.   When utility or grid power is restored, the electrical circuits in your home or business are automatically disconnected from your automatic system and reconnected to your utility power line.

==========================================================

Posted on Thu, Sep. 11, 2003

Electrical Grid Vulnerable to Hackers

JIM KRANE

Associated Press

http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/6747322.htm

NEW YORK - Since last month's Northeast Blackout, utilities have accelerated plans to automate the electric grid, replacing aging monitoring systems with digital switches and other high-tech gear.

But those very improvements are making the electricity supply vulnerable to a different kind of peril: computer viruses and hackers who could black out substations, cities or entire states.

Researchers working for the U.S., Canadian and British governments have already sniffed out "back doors" in the digital relays and control room technology that increasingly direct electricity flow in North America.

With a few focused keystrokes, they say, they could shut the computer gear down - or change settings in ways that might trigger cascading blackouts.

"I know enough about where the holes are," said Eric Byres, a cybersecurity researcher for critical infrastructure at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Vancouver. "My team and I could shut down the grid. Not the whole North American grid, but a state, sure."

Security experts have warned about the grid's growing vulnerabilities before, especially after U.S. National Security Agency hackers showed they could break into grid control networks in 1998.

Byres and other researchers say the holes exploited then have gone unpatched. With an expected spate of post-blackout upgrades, the computer-heavy grid will be even more vulnerable to terrorists and hackers, they say.

Computer viruses are another new worry.

The "Blaster" worm that flummoxed an estimated half-million computers around the world last month might have exacerbated utilities' problems during the August blackout, bringing down - or perhaps blocking communications - on computers used to monitor the grid, said Joe Weiss, a utility control system expert.

"It didn't cause what happened but it could've exacerbated what happened," said Weiss, with Kema Consulting in Cupertino, Calif., The blackout followed the Aug. 11 Blaster outbreak by just three days.

The Ohio utility that is the chief focus of the blackout investigation, FirstEnergy Corp., is investigating whether the Blaster worm might have caused computer trouble that was described on telephone transcripts as hampering its response to multiple power line failures.

"We haven't detected a worm or a virus but we're not ruling anything out," said FirstEnergy spokesman Ralph DiNicola. The bi-national task force investigating the country's biggest blackout is also looking into the issue, said U.S. Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis.

In January, the "Slammer" Internet worm took down monitoring computers at FirstEnergy's idled Davis-Besse nuclear plant. A subsequent report by the North American Electric Reliability Council said the infection blocked commands that operated other power utilities, although it caused no outages.

In the past, the grid's old electromechanical switches and analog technology made it more or less impervious to computer maladies, Weiss said.

But now, switches and monitoring gear can be upgraded and programmed remotely with software - and that requires a vulnerable connection to a computer network. If that network runs on Microsoft Corp. operating systems - which virus-writers favor - or connects to the Internet, the vulnerabilities are sharpened, say experts who test such gear for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Assurance and the Department of Homeland Security.

In one test, Byres found that a tiny piece of corrupted data could crash a crucial computerized control device that is installed in most grid substations.

Byres said he contacted the well-known manufacturer - whom he declined to name for security reasons - and urged that the weakness be fixed before hackers found it.

"I've been trying to get these guys to patch and they won't patch it," he said. "I've been on their case for over six months."

Other researchers have figured out how to hack into the device, known as a remote terminal unit, and command it to trip and reset a breaker.

That would incapacitate a substation, the electricity distribution points for towns and neighborhoods where high-voltage electricity is transformed for local use.

One feared hacking scenario involves changing the settings on substations' programmable circuit breakers. A hacker could lower settings from, say 500 amperes to 200 on some breakers, while raising others to 900, said Gary Seifert, a researcher with the Energy Department's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

Normal power usage could trip the 200 amp breakers and take those lines out of service, diverting power and overloading neighboring lines.

With their breakers set at 900 amps - too high to trip - the overloads would cause transformers and other critical equipment to melt down, requiring major repairs that would prolong a blackout, Byres said.

"We have a plethora of intelligent electrical devices going into substations and power stations all over the United States," Seifert said. "What's to keep somebody from accessing those devices and changing the settings?"

Some of the most technically advanced relays, made by companies like Schweitzer Engineering, General Electric and Siemens, can be programmed over a telephone modem connection after typing a simple eight-digit password, Seifert said.

"Hackers have very little trouble cracking an eight-digit password," he said, and finding substation phone lines that connect to these relays can be done with so-called "war dialers," simple PC programs that dial consecutive phone numbers looking for modems.

Seifert said he and other researchers are asking manufacturers to take countermeasures, including programming their control devices to accept calls only from certain phone numbers, or simply disconnecting idle modems.

Like anyone dependent on networked computers for crucial operations, grid operators will be vulnerable to hackers, said Seifert.

"We're still going to have back doors no matter how hard we try," he said. "You can't keep them out but you hope to slow them down."
 

==========================================================

An Invitation To Terrorists?

Time Magazine

By JOHANNA MCGEARY

Aug. 25, 2003

In those first few moments when the power went down, who didn't wonder: Is this the work of terrorists? Within an hour, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg assured us it was not. Yet we are left with a nagging worry: Even if this was an accident, could terrorists pull off something similar?

Certainly, terrorists might be tantalized by the massive social and economic disruption the blackout caused. The episode brought chaos to 50 million people in eight states and Canada and showed just how vulnerable the tightly knit network of generators and transmission lines is. In the wake of a similar wholesale crash of the system that sent the Northeast into darkness 38 years ago, the powers that be said they had enacted safeguards to ensure that such an epic loss wouldn't happen again. The experts assumed that if something went wrong, the culprit would be an act of nature, an equipment failure or a human error--any of which they could contain. But it is now obvious that a single failure can still ripple through the complex interconnections and delicate balance of supply and demand that govern the nation's electric supply--with disastrous results.

Is the system vulnerable to terrorist threat? Not wanting to find out the hard way, power-industry executives have beefed up security since 9/11. But while key facilities are probably better protected, they are hardly foolproof. Attackers could break into a remote generating station and seize control, or cut through a fence to plant a time bomb during the night. "The bottom line is, it's pretty vulnerable," says a Senate energy expert. "There are key nodes out there that, if attacked, can knock out a pretty large section of the country."

That said, it isn't likely to happen. Bruce Hoffman, a Rand Corp. terrorism analyst, says that setting off a systemwide collapse with a physical attack that cuts through all the backup systems and redundancies would be technically difficult. The terrorists would need an uncommonly detailed knowledge of U.S. facilities and sophisticated engineering expertise. "Utilities are vulnerable," says Gary Seifert of the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, "but not to systemwide outages, without a lot of skill."

The bigger risk is a digital attack. Richard Clarke, former cyberspace security czar in the Bush Administration, thinks an attack on the electricity-generating system is more likely to come from computer hackers than bombers. "The power grid is controlled by software, so the question is, Is there a way you can get into the control system?" Clarke asks. "And, yeah, there is."

A skilled hacker could disable a network of several plants without ever entering a facility by seizing digital controls at the point where computers meet the infrastructure they run. The weak links are the devices called supervisory-control and data-acquisition systems, which monitor power flows. Much of the information terrorists would need to hack into them is available on the Internet. And since energy deregulation, many companies have adopted common platforms for their computer systems. The control systems often lack rudimentary security, leaving technical specifications and flaws on view to potential attackers.

What is unclear is whether the current generation of terrorists has the computer skills to wage digital warfare on the power grid. The Washington Post reported last year that al-Qaeda computers seized in Afghanistan had logged on to sites offering tips for cracking computers that control an electrical system. But Seifert says a terrorist would need years of tinkering and top skills to break into the proprietary computers of most U.S. utilities. And terrorism experts like Hoffman think disrupting the power supply is too unspectacular a ploy to appeal to terrorists, since it produces no dramatic bloodshed. Yet the risk is that after seeing the havoc of last week's blackout, plotting a sequel might just prove too tempting for terrorists to resist. --By Johanna McGeary. Reported by Simon Crittle/New York, Broward Liston/Orlando, Eric Roston and Michael Weisskopf/Washington

==========================================================

April 22, 2005

House Votes to Approve Broad Energy Legislation

The New York Times

By CARL HULSE

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/22/politics/22energy.html

WASHINGTON, April 21 - The House approved broad energy legislation on Thursday that seeks to improve the reliability of the electrical grid, increase domestic energy production and save power by extending daylight saving time. Opponents say it is deeply flawed for its emphasis on traditional fossil fuels.

Republican authors of the measure, which was adopted on a 249-to-183 vote, first had to beat back a flurry of amendments, including a last-minute effort to eliminate liability protection for producers of MTBE, a gasoline additive blamed in groundwater pollution nationwide.

The narrow 219-to-213 vote to retain that provision virtually guarantees a clash with the Senate, where opposition to legal immunity for MTBE blocked the energy bill in 2003, sidelining a chief domestic initiative of the Bush presidency.

The White House and Congressional backers of the energy plan hope that high gasoline and fuel prices provide the momentum to achieve an agreement this year even though they acknowledge the measure will do little immediately to cut prices at the pump.

"People will say it won't do enough," said Representative Joe L. Barton, the Texas Republican who is chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, after the vote. "My question is, well, isn't something better than nothing?"

Many Democrats and some Republicans said the measure, which provides $8 billion in tax breaks to energy producers and billions of dollars more in direct federal aid, was too friendly to industry and gave short shrift to energy efficiency and renewable fuels.

"Instead of helping the American people save money, the bill is loaded with tax breaks and royalty relief for oil and gas companies," said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader.

Democrats successfully maneuvered to force a vote directly on the proposal to strip MTBE product liability protection from the measure, putting lawmakers who backed the bill but represent communities that have contended with MTBE contamination on the spot.

Critics of the legal immunity, which has been championed by Mr. Barton and Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the majority leader, say it will leave local communities bearing the costs of any MTBE cleanup when oil companies were aware of risks.

"MTBE contamination is a huge problem, and it is not going away," said Representative Lois Capps, Democrat of California and author of the plan to remove the protection.

Mr. Barton and others said that the additive was instrumental in cutting air pollution and that oil refiners used it with the consent of the federal government after being ordered to produce gasoline with reduced emissions under the Clean Air Act.

"If it's a defective product, we mandated it," Representative Gene Green, Democrat of Texas, said. "Now 10 years later, 15 years later, we are going to say you're responsible even though we told them do to it."

The House also rejected an effort to retain state and local control over where to put terminals for importing liquefied natural gas. Representative Michael N. Castle, Republican of Delaware, said that giving the federal government final authority was "trampling on the rights of states and individual communities."

Mr. Barton said the federal control was needed to accelerate the construction of such terminals because of increased imports.

The White House said it "strongly supports" the House bill though in its official critique of the measure it expressed reservations about the amount of the tax breaks, which exceed President Bush's budget request by about $1.3 billion. The White House also raised concerns over the diversion of up to $2 billion in oil and gas royalties to research into drilling in deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico, another provision pushed by Mr. DeLay, and other spending that was not sought by the president.

Administration officials hope that the way is open to enact an energy initiative after years of fits and starts on measures driven by regional as much as political concerns.

"This bill largely meets the conditions that were laid out in the president's national energy policy three years ago," said Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman, who went to Capitol Hill to congratulate Mr. Barton on the legislation.

Senate energy leaders say that they seek a measure that could win a larger consensus than the bill the House adopted and that they are considering hearings next month. Mr. Barton said he would like a final measure sent to the president by August and indicated that he is willing to negotiate over the MTBE provision.

The House bill would allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, another issue that has killed past energy legislation. In the Senate, Republicans are hoping to win approval for the Alaska drilling by advancing it in a budget measure that cannot be filibustered.

The legislation is more than 1,000 pages long and touches on almost every aspect of energy production and use. It gives a federal board new authority to force improvements in the power grid to avert blackouts. The House bill would also extend daylight saving time by two months, to reduce the need for electricity.

==========================================================

April 15, 2005
Section: OPINION
Page: A10

Power grid needs remedies
Poughkeepsie Journal

For years, federal regulators have recognized there are more than a dozen ''choke points'' in the nation's power grid, places where demand for energy can quickly overtax the system. Yet not even the massive blackout in August 2003 has persuaded Congress to do anything to alleviate the situation.

This neglect is outrageous. U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, predicts a ''horrible summer'' because of potential power blackouts. Most of those problems have occurred in California, where deliberate rolling blackouts have been used on occasion to alleviate stress on the energy system.

But New York is also vulnerable to problems associated with the power grid. A strange chain of events in summer 2003 caused the nation's largest blackout in history. New York and many other states were left without power after some lines short-circuited in Ohio. Within minutes, computer systems were tripping major power lines in the Midwest -- and on into the Northeast and nearby Canada. When it was over, 50 million people were left without power and the outage caused some $6 billion in losses. Investigators found many power companies were using inadequate equipment and were not properly training employees to respond to emergency situations. Yet federal lawmakers have not taken all the necessary steps to impose tougher reliability standards on power companies. National standards, with tough penalties for failing to comply, are needed.

Barton notes years of neglect have left the nation's electrical grid even more vulnerable, especially during the summer, when people use air conditioners. Several times, Congress has tried to deal with changes to the power grid in the context of a larger energy bill. With gas prices teetering at record highs, lawmakers have an added incentive to take action. In all likelihood, Congress will provide billions of dollars in tax incentives to myriad energy producers -- including oil, coal and nuclear power. But it should steer more of those incentives to alternative-fuel producers. And it must set tougher standards for those responsible for getting energy from one place to another via the power grid. Federal lawmakers were quick to call 2003 power outage a ''wake up call'' to fix the grid. They are still slumbering.

============================================================================

New Investment Report Highlights $360-Million Market For Power Grid Frequency Regulation Services In The U.S.
4/5/2005 

http://www.electricnet.com/content/news/article.asp?docid=%7b7E693737-7D74-4FAB-B800-85E9CCFC83E8%7d&VNETCOOKIE=NO

WILMINGTON, Mass., Apr 05, 2005 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Ardour Capital Investments Cites Expected Growth and Greater Opportunities for New Service Providers in an Increasingly Open Market.

The market for grid frequency regulation services open to new service providers in the United States in 2004 was valued at nearly $360 million - and is expected to increase in 2005 - according to a Technology Brief issued today by Ardour Capital Investments, LLC. Frequency regulation is the target market for Beacon Power's (Nasdaq: BCON) Smart Energy Matrix flywheel energy storage system, two demonstration systems of which are being built under contract to the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The Technology Brief is available online at www.ardourcapital.com, under "Ardour's Energy Tech Updates."

According to the report, the U.S. frequency regulation market today is characterized by increased visibility, greater accessibility to new service providers, and continuing expansion. Since the start of industry deregulation in the 1990s, a number of the Independent System Operators (ISOs) and Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs) who run the power grid have opened up their markets to new entrants in order to provide greater competition, lower cost, and improved service. The report focuses on four of these markets, representing approximately 28% of the total U.S. power market (by megawatts), which are now accessible to independent providers of frequency regulation services.

"This report validates our own frequency regulation market research," said Bill Capp, Beacon Power president and CEO. "Based on this data and our ongoing product and technology development, we are confident that our Smart Energy Matrix design is ideally suited to address a market that is strong, growing, and available to new participants - such as Beacon Power. The two contracts we recently signed with the CEC and NYSERDA call for us to demonstrate that flywheel energy storage systems are not only a viable alternative to conventional frequency regulation methods, but also cleaner, better-performing, and more cost-effective."

Continued Market Growth Driven by Multiple Factors

The Ardour Capital report states that as the industry evolves, additional ISOs and RTOs are expected to follow suit and allow access to their frequency regulation markets - beginning later this year with the Midwest ISO. The other currently accessible frequency regulation markets (with corresponding 2004 market sizes) are: ISO New England ($38.0 million); New York ISO ($42.4 million); California ISO ($99.7 million); and the PJM Interconnection ($178.5). According to the report, "...as other regions of the country develop their own RTO power markets, readily accessible markets for frequency regulation could continue to increase for many years." The report also states that the pricing for such services is directly linked to the price of electricity, which is also trending upwards.

The frequency regulation market is expected to receive a further boost as more wind power generation is deployed, in response to statewide Renewable Portfolio Standards (the percentage of a state's power that must be generated from renewable resources). Because of its more competitive costs, wind power has become the predominant renewable resource being implemented. From a performance standpoint, wind is less stable and subject to greater fluctuations than other generation sources. In addition, as wind assets are deployed, they often replace older generation systems that normally provide frequency regulation services in their area. These trends are expected to increase the need for frequency regulation services in areas where wind is used.

About Frequency Regulation

One of the most challenging aspects of today's electricity grid is that the amount of power generated and the amount consumed must be in exact balance at all times. When imbalances occur, the frequency of electricity (60 hertz in the U.S.) that end users require will not be maintained, which adversely affects grid stability. The constant balancing of power demand and production to maintain a constant frequency is called frequency regulation.

Beacon's Smart Energy Matrix is a flywheel-based energy storage system that is intended to be a long-life, environmentally friendly solution for frequency regulation, with no fuel consumed and no emissions generated. The equipment could be located nearly anywhere, including at a substation or within the distribution system, where additional benefits such as voltage regulation, backup power, or reactive power can also be provided for even greater value.

About Ardour Capital Investments, LLC

Ardour Capital Investments, LLC provides a wide range of financial services for both public and private growth companies. Ardour provides investors that specialize in small capitalization growth companies a truly independent brand of research not traditionally found within the securities industry. Ardour has made a commitment to be a leading research institution in the Energy Technology/Alternative Power sector. More information is available at www.ardourcapital.com.

About Beacon Power Corporation

Beacon Power Corporation designs sustainable energy storage and power conversion solutions that would provide reliable electric power for the utility, renewable energy, and distributed generation markets. Beacon's Smart Energy Matrix is a design concept for a megawatt-level, utility-grade flywheel-based energy storage solution that would provide sustainable power quality services for frequency regulation, and support the demand for reliable, distributed electrical power. Beacon is a publicly traded company with its research, development and manufacturing facility in the U.S. More information is available at www.beaconpower.com.

Source: Beacon Power Corporation

 

 

=============================================================================

New Electric Grid Rules Gridlocked
WASHINGTON, April 6, 2004

CBS

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/12/21/national/printable589697.shtml

A seven-month investigation into the nation's worst blackout is putting new pressure on Congress to boost the reliability of power grids but legislation addressing the problem remains in limbo.

Nearly eight months after all or parts of eight states and sections of Canada went dark, a U.S.-Canadian task force on Monday called for urgent approval of mandatory reliability rules to govern the electric transmission industry.

Many of the voluntary rules, managed by a private, industry-sponsored group, were largely ignored by the Ohio power company and others whose failures led to the blackout, the task force said in a 228-page report.

"This report says brace yourself for another blackout," reports CBS News Correspondent Lou Miliano.

Most of the causes for the massive outage that cascaded from Michigan to New York on Aug. 14, 2003, were detailed in a preliminary report last November. On Monday the task force issued 46 recommendations, the first of which was to "make reliability standards mandatory and enforceable with penalties for noncompliance."

It's something the White House, a bipartisan array of lawmakers and industry representatives demanded within days after the lights went out last summer.

However, provisions to establish mandatory rules on the electricity industry, along with measures to make it easier to build transmission lines, have been caught up in a partisan fight over broader energy legislation.

As the task force report was being released Monday, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., took another stab at trying to get his energy bill out of the Senate, announcing he would attach it to a popular jobs bill.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also cited the blackout findings as a fresh reason to pass energy legislation. But Barton also has said he won't go along with an energy bill that doesn't provide liability protection to the makers of a gasoline additive, MTBE. That issue helped kill the energy bill and its electricity section late last year.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., whose state was hit by the blackout, has argued for a stand-alone electricity bill for months.

"Each day this legislation is not considered is another day consumers remain unnecessarily at risk of another blackout," Dingell said after Monday's report was released.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., co-sponsor of a separate bill that would address only electricity matters, said, "There's no good reason (for) ... letting this legislation get stuck in a political quagmire" of the broader energy bill.

The U.S.-Canadian task force said its seven-month investigation uncovered evidence that the industry's attempt at self-policing the reliability of the power grids is inadequate and could spawn another blackout.

There was a clear understanding long before the blackout that the Ohio region where the line problems began was highly vulnerable to grid instability, said the task force.

Had FirstEnergy Corp., the Ohio utility whose lines initially failed, and the grid monitoring organization in the Midwest followed industry-recommended standards, they would have been better prepared to deal with the situation, the report said.

Something as simple as shutting off 200 megawatts of power an hour before the blackout might have kept the problem from spreading, investigators said.

Investigators said they found at least seven violations of industry-sponsored North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) reliability rules linked to the blackout. The report also said NERC was too closely tied to industry and dependent on it for funding.

Since the blackout, NERC has begun a vigorous audit of the major transmission systems, aiming to complete the task before the heavy demand period begins this summer. It also has argued forcefully for federally mandated reliability standards.
 

=============================================================================

Tue, Apr. 06, 2004

Barton boosts energy measure

By Dan Piller

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/8366155.htm

DALLAS - The president's energy bill is stalled in Congress and election-year politics is making its passage more difficult, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, said Monday.

With the bill stalled, some tax incentives for domestic drilling, purchases of hybrid gasoline/electric cars and promotion of alternative sources have already expired, even as oil and gas prices remain at near-record highs.

The proposed bill also contains a plan to establish a national electricity trading policy and national standards for the nation's regional electric grids. A report released Monday cited the lack of standards in the cause of the August blackout in the Northeast and portions of Canada.

Debate on the bill has also centered on the size of tax breaks granted to energy companies -- estimated at more than $20 billion. And the bill's proposed lawsuit immunity to manufacturers of the gasoline additive MTBE has also created opposition. MTBE has been found to remain in the environment and to leach into the water table.

Barton, chairman of the House subcommittee reviewing the White House's energy bill, said he is waiting for the administration's backers to come up with two more votes to achieve the three-fifths majority needed to close debate.

"We have 58 votes in the Senate, and need two more or there will be a filibuster," Barton said Monday at an energy conference at the Cary Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University.

Movement on the energy bill, laden with tax incentives for domestic oil and gas drilling, halted late in the 2003 session after House passage when Senate Democrats threatened a filibuster. Republicans came two votes short of the 60 votes needed to close debate.

The stalemate is likely to continue, with Democrats hoping to use the lack of action as a campaign issue, Barton said. Or, perhaps, to come up with their own plan should they get a Democrat in the White House.

"The Senate Democrats are saying that they don't want anything more to happen," Barton said.

The bill contains several incentives for Texas drillers, including tax breaks for "tight formations" such as the Barnett Shale field near Fort Worth. Previous incentives for drilling in difficult geological areas such as the Barnett Shale expired at the end of 2003.

The effect of incentive expirations is unclear. Several major exploration companies, including XTO Corp. and Quicksilver Resources of Fort Worth -- as well as Burlington Resources and EOG Exploration of Houston -- have made major investments for exploration in the Barnett Shale without referring to the tax incentives as a factor.

"But the tight formation incentives are very important to the smaller operators in the Barnett Shale," said Alex Mills, president of the Texas Energy Alliance, a group of North Texas independent producers.

Democrats objected to the House-passed energy bill in 2003 largely because of its price. The tax breaks totaled at least $24 billion, with some estimates even larger. A newer version of the bill, drafted by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., would cut the incentives to less than $15 billion.

But Barton said he supports the House version.

"Every one of those incentives is designed to increase production, and we need it today, with the current high gasoline and natural gas prices," he said. "There are incentives in the bill for wind, solar and geothermal power development as well."

Another area addressed by the bill, a national reliability standard for electricity grids, became an issue Monday with the issuance of a report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the federal regulator of electricity. The report notes that the blackout extending from Ohio to New York last Aug. 24 stemmed in part from a lack of uniform standards.

"The blackout last August could have been prevented if we had such reliability standards," Barton said.

The report on the power outage placed most of the blame on Ohio provider First Energy. It said the company had failed to keep its lines clear of tree limbs and that when problems began, its computerized warning system proved inadequate to prevent the blackout from spreading.

Another of the bill's major sticking points involves protection from lawsuits for the manufacturers of MTBE, a gasoline additive used for several years to clear pollutants from emissions. MTBE has been found to be toxic and several states have banned the additive.

U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, has insisted on a shield against liability lawsuits for MTBE manufacturers, which are concentrated along the Texas Gulf Coast. Barton said he supports the protection.

"The MTBE makers came to this in good faith, and it is not fair to kick them in the shins so that some predatory lawyers can earn huge fees," he said.

Barton also said he supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
 

=================================================================================

Sat, Aug. 16, 2003

http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/6547665.htm

Blackout shines light on Congress' efforts to oversee power transmission




Star-Telegram Staff Writer

 

The power outage that blacked out several states Thursday and Friday has illuminated previously obscure moves in Congress to introduce federal oversight of the nation's electricity grid.

A House-Senate conference committee is working toward an October deadline to produce legislation that would for the first time bring federal regulation to the nation's interstate electricity grids through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.

Experts say that some parts of the nation's transmission system have not been significantly upgraded in decades and that patchworked regional networks have varying degrees of quality.

"We're trying to build a 21st-century electric marketplace on top of a 20th-century electric grid," said Ellen Vancko, a spokeswoman for the North American Electric Reliability Council. "No significant additions have been made to the grid in 20 years of bulk electric transmission, yet we've had significant increases in the amount of generation."

The blackout, the most extensive in U.S. history, is likely to build support for more federal control of the grid, now operated as cooperatives of large power-generating and transmission companies. Bills to address the issue have been introduced by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, in the House and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., in the Senate.

The new laws would create regional transmission organizations and expand federal authority. The regulations would also restrict the ability of individuals or states to block the construction of new transmission lines, make reliability standards mandatory and back them up with fines, and repeal the 78-year-old Public Utility Holding Company Act so that nonutility companies can enter the electricity transmission business.

"If the people of New York and the Northeast don't want another blackout, they'll support my bill," said Barton, who was inundated with calls about his bill Friday while traveling in Texas.

The House bill passed 247-175 in April, and the Senate version was approved last month 84-14. But many details remain to be worked out in conference. Barton said he wants to create a system for electricity comparable to federal oversight of the nation's air traffic control system or the inspection and control system governing the nation's railroads.

It would ensure basic quality standards and enforcement of those standards, he says.

"The new system would restore confidence in the nation's utility sector and thus draw more investment that is needed for improvements in the transmission grid," Barton said.

The proposed legislation would almost completely exempt Texas because the state's largest grid, operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, is entirely within the state's borders and thus beyond the scope of the interstate commerce provisions of the bill.

Texas' insulated electric system has drawn occasional caustic comments from outsiders, most notably Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Edward Markey, D-Mass. Both have blasted Texas for its refusal to share its excess electricity with power-poorer states.

"I would just tell the people of Massachusetts that there is nothing to prevent them from setting up their own intrastate grid system like ERCOT," Barton said.

He said California's unwillingness or inability to build transmission lines cost that state dearly two years ago when electricity fell into short supply.

"We learned in California a few years ago that problems of insufficient capacity hurt electric consumers when regions can't share power in times of need," Barton said. "Had a line been built along California's 'Path 15' [dividing the north and south parts of the state], power would have flowed better and prices would not have spiked as much. There are similar paths in the Northeast and Midwest today that probably contributed to [Thursday's] problem growing as big as it did."

TXU Corp., the utility serving most of North Texas, opened a 345-kilovolt line along a 60-mile path from Central Texas into the metropolitan grid two years ago to ease a similar transmission bottleneck within the state.

That and other transmission line improvements in Texas, plus a 30 percent reserve in generating capacity, enabled Texas' grid to carry three days of record peak loads a week ago during a heat wave without any problems.

"I used to live in California," said Ted Harper of Frost Bank in Houston, who manages energy investments. "There, they view generators and transmission lines as blights. Texas has always been more open toward the need for energy infrastructure."

It's a different story elsewhere. New York Assemblyman Paul Tonko, an engineer and chairman of his chamber's Energy Committee, said there hasn't been significant spending by New York state to improve transmission lines since the 1970s and no major work by utilities since the 1960s.

President Bush responded to the blackout by calling for modernization of the nation's electricity transmission grid.

Predictably, this week's blackout caused interest groups to issue opinions almost as varied as speculations about its cause.

The Consumer Federation of America continued its battle against deregulation of the wholesale electric market.

"Transmission of electricity takes place over a power grid that is more like a highway system than a market," said Mark Cooper, the federation's director of research.

But Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Nora Brownell said the blackout was a "a matter of electricity supply and transmission, not deregulation."

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association president, Malcolm O'Hagan, agreed.

"The pending energy legislation includes provisions that, had they been in effect for a reasonable period of time, would have prevented or at least limited the impact of yesterday's outage," he said.

The libertarian Cato Institute said that the bills in Congress would provide little incentive for power companies to invest in more transmission capacity and that more players in the transmission game would increase the likelihood of another domino blackout.

The Rocky Mountain Institute, which has promoted a small-is-beautiful energy philosophy, pushed for a less centralized system that would depend less on huge generators and interstate transmission lines and more on smaller generators for individual homes and offices.

"Putting all our eggs in one basket is a predictable catastrophe waiting to happen," said Kyle Datta, managing director of the Colorado-based institute.

Whereas most of the nation's truck and rail transportation, as well as oil and gas, move along coast-to-coast systems, electricity transmission has been fragmented in regional "reliability councils."

The prime reason for the fragmentation is physical; electricity can't be stored or parked, and the farther it travels, the more it degrades.

Barton and others would put control of the electricity grid in ten regional transmission organizations, or RTOs, that roughly correspond to the present councils but also separate major populated areas such as California and New York. Municipal systems plus the thousands of electric cooperatives still operating, would be required to join RTOs.

The RTOs would be self-managed, as the regional councils have been. But the federal energy agency would have the power to impose reliability standards on the grid systems within the RTOs and supervise inter-RTO electricity transfers. This, Barton said, would go a long way toward eliminating multistate blackouts.

 

==========================================================

An Invitation To Terrorists?

Time Magazine

By JOHANNA MCGEARY

Aug. 25, 2003

In those first few moments when the power went down, who didn't wonder: Is this the work of terrorists? Within an hour, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg assured us it was not. Yet we are left with a nagging worry: Even if this was an accident, could terrorists pull off something similar?

Certainly, terrorists might be tantalized by the massive social and economic disruption the blackout caused. The episode brought chaos to 50 million people in eight states and Canada and showed just how vulnerable the tightly knit network of generators and transmission lines is. In the wake of a similar wholesale crash of the system that sent the Northeast into darkness 38 years ago, the powers that be said they had enacted safeguards to ensure that such an epic loss wouldn't happen again. The experts assumed that if something went wrong, the culprit would be an act of nature, an equipment failure or a human error--any of which they could contain. But it is now obvious that a single failure can still ripple through the complex interconnections and delicate balance of supply and demand that govern the nation's electric supply--with disastrous results.

Is the system vulnerable to terrorist threat? Not wanting to find out the hard way, power-industry executives have beefed up security since 9/11. But while key facilities are probably better protected, they are hardly foolproof. Attackers could break into a remote generating station and seize control, or cut through a fence to plant a time bomb during the night. "The bottom line is, it's pretty vulnerable," says a Senate energy expert. "There are key nodes out there that, if attacked, can knock out a pretty large section of the country."

That said, it isn't likely to happen. Bruce Hoffman, a Rand Corp. terrorism analyst, says that setting off a systemwide collapse with a physical attack that cuts through all the backup systems and redundancies would be technically difficult. The terrorists would need an uncommonly detailed knowledge of U.S. facilities and sophisticated engineering expertise. "Utilities are vulnerable," says Gary Seifert of the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, "but not to systemwide outages, without a lot of skill."

The bigger risk is a digital attack. Richard Clarke, former cyberspace security czar in the Bush Administration, thinks an attack on the electricity-generating system is more likely to come from computer hackers than bombers. "The power grid is controlled by software, so the question is, Is there a way you can get into the control system?" Clarke asks. "And, yeah, there is."

A skilled hacker could disable a network of several plants without ever entering a facility by seizing digital controls at the point where computers meet the infrastructure they run. The weak links are the devices called supervisory-control and data-acquisition systems, which monitor power flows. Much of the information terrorists would need to hack into them is available on the Internet. And since energy deregulation, many companies have adopted common platforms for their computer systems. The control systems often lack rudimentary security, leaving technical specifications and flaws on view to potential attackers.

What is unclear is whether the current generation of terrorists has the computer skills to wage digital warfare on the power grid. The Washington Post reported last year that al-Qaeda computers seized in Afghanistan had logged on to sites offering tips for cracking computers that control an electrical system. But Seifert says a terrorist would need years of tinkering and top skills to break into the proprietary computers of most U.S. utilities. And terrorism experts like Hoffman think disrupting the power supply is too unspectacular a ploy to appeal to terrorists, since it produces no dramatic bloodshed. Yet the risk is that after seeing the havoc of last week's blackout, plotting a sequel might just prove too tempting for terrorists to resist. --By Johanna McGeary. Reported by Simon Crittle/New York, Broward Liston/Orlando, Eric Roston and Michael Weisskopf/Washington

 

==========================================================

Trouble All Down The Line
In just a few minutes, a glitch in the Midwest rippled through about 100 electric plants, plunging millions into darkness

Time Magazine

By MISSY ADAMS
Aug. 25, 2003

A WIRED WORLD North America is crisscrossed by thousands of power-transmission lines linking generators and cities in a complex web designed to send power where it is needed

THE LAKE ERIE LOOP Investigators now think the crisis started with the failure of several transmission lines near Lake Erie. The clockwise flow of power around the lake was very suddenly sucked backward, destabilizing the flow of electricity

HOW ELECTRICITY IS SUPPOSED TO FLOW ...

1 --Power plant --Generator

Electricity starts at the power plant, produced by a spinning generator driven by various means: a hydroelectric dam, a large diesel engine, a gas turbine or a steam turbine. The steam is created by burning coal, oil or natural gas or by a nuclear reactor

2 --Transmission substation

At a transmission substation, large transformers increase the voltage from thousands to hundreds of thousands of volts so the power can be shipped long distances

3 --Power substation

The electricity travels along high-voltage lines to a power substation. There, the power can be redirected to other high-power lines or stepped down to a lower voltage that is sent to neighborhood power lines

... AND HOW ONE FAILURE CAN SPREAD

4 --High-voltage transmission lines

Power grids are a delicate balance between supply and demand in which sudden fluctuations can cause portions to fail. If, for example, a transmission line breaks, the system is designed to isolate the problem and disconnect it from the grid

5 --Transmission substation

In last week's case, control mechanisms--computers, circuit breakers and switches--failed to contain the problem quickly, causing rapid fluctuations at substations elsewhere in the grid, tripping more shutdown mechanisms

6 --Generator --Power plant

The problem spread fast back to generating plants that then were producing too much or too little electricity, causing more shutdowns. Eventually, the problem was contained, preventing a blackout that could have spread as widely as the entire eastern half of the U.S.

POWERFUL NUMBERS The biggest blackout in North American history set all sorts of records

50 million people in the U.S. and Canada affected

8 states and 2 Canadian provinces experienced power failures

3 deaths attributed to the blackout

22 U.S. and Canadian nuclear plants shut down

10 major airports shut down

700 flights canceled nationwide

850 arrests on the night of the blackout in New York City compared with 950 on a typical night)

23 cases of looting reported in Ottawa

7,600 gal. (29,000 liters) of drinking water distributed by the National Guard in Cleveland after the city's four main pumping stations failed

350,000 people on the New York City subway when the power went out. Nineteen trains were in underwater tunnels

Sources: North American Electric Reliability Council; Department of Energy; ESRI; AP; Philadelphia Inquirer; New York Times; How Stuff Works

==========================================================

Getting By Without the Grid

Time Magazine

By JEFFREY KLUGER

Aug. 25, 2003

There's nothing like a multistate summertime blackout to get environmentalists and industry groups throwing spitballs at one another. Extreme greens wag told-you-so fingers and dream anew about a grid-free country, with homeowners generating their own power courtesy of clean, renewable energy sources. Industry types speak instead about building new nuclear or conventional power plants or muscling up existing ones--and delivering all the juice through a modernized distribution system.

In this instance, both sides are right--to a degree. While centralized power will probably always be with us, the best way to upgrade the energy grid may well involve doing away with some of it, democratizing energy production by handing the job off to communities, blocks and even private homes.

Long before last week's blackout, environmentalists and industry researchers had begun evaluating the idea of "power parks"--communities or mere groups of homes that would generate their own energy courtesy of solar panels, wind turbines, fuel cells or natural-gas generators. The little clusters could be almost entirely self-sufficient, relying on the grid only in the event that they needed to top themselves off with a sip or two of outside power. Just as important, they would have the freedom to disconnect from the larger network entirely if a regional crash was threatening to knock them off-line along with the bigger consumers. Similar independent systems could be used to provide power to individual users with especially big energy appetites, such as factories or hospitals.

George Douglas, spokesman for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., concedes that the concept is "idealistic in one sense" but compares it to distributive computing, in which the data-crunching once performed by a single supercomputer is broken up and scattered among numerous smaller computers. "Almost all computing was formerly done on mainframes," he says. "Now we all have that same power on a laptop."

What has always kept this kind of energy free-lancing from becoming more than environmentalist daydreaming is that the necessary technologies have remained unreliable and prohibitively expensive (with the exception of wind turbines)--particularly if you are talking about microgenerators that serve only a single home. Lately, however, the question of cost, at least, is coming under control. "The price of solar cells has fallen," says Douglas. "Natural-gas microturbines are more affordable too. The economics are coming closer to reality."

Where economics lead, government policy often follows. The few consumers who do generate their own power--typically with green technologies like solar panels, windmills or hydroelectric turbines--usually use it only to supplement what they draw from the grid. Still, this can present a problem when the power they generate with their windmills or solar panels, combined with what they take from the local power plant, exceeds their needs. Historically, they would simply kick that extra juice back to the local power company, which would buy it back from them at far below market value. A new system has been enacted in 36 states to rectify that inequity. Under the plan, called net metering, a homeowner's electrical meter simply rolls backward whenever the house is feeding electricity to the grid instead of pulling it down, reducing the bill at the same price per kilowatt hour the power company charges.

Proponents of the policy hope that it will boost energy independence, but not everyone thinks that's a good idea. Because so much of the American gross domestic product is involved in the coal, petroleum and nuclear industries, walking away from them would set off severe economic shock waves. "The grid is a $360 billion asset," says Clark Gellings, a vice president of the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute. "It's literally a national treasure." Gellings believes that decentralization will play some role in the energy industry of the future, but he thinks it will always be a minority player. "It may be 20% of the supply in maybe the next 20 years," he says, "but it's not going to replace what we have." That may be so. But after the fiasco of last week, plenty of consumers would be happy to see the whole system replaced--or at least dramatically improved. --By Jeffrey Kluger. Reported by David Bjerklie and Mitch Frank/New York, Rita Healy/Denver and Laura A. Locke/San Francisco

 

==========================================================