DOE warns ‘modern life’ threatened by terror, climate threats to electric grid

From:, by: Paul Bedard, on: April 21, 2015, see the article HERE.


The Department of Energy warns in a new report that the aging electric grid, which provides most electricity to the nation, faces threats from terrorism and storms caused by climate change that could knock out Wall Street, hospitals and the Internet if left unfixed.

In the administration’s first ever “Quadrennial Energy Review,” the department suggests that modernization is a must and estimated the cost at updating just the grid of transmission and distribution lines at $900 billion. Add in updating power plants, and the price reaches $2 trillion.

The department has been warning of an “aging, inefficient, congested” electric grid for a decade. In recent years, fears of terrorism, climate change storms and even solar flares have added to the list of concerns and prompted a national debate on protecting or modernizing the grid.

In the new report, the Energy Department warns that modern life could be endangered if the grid went down. A congressional report has warned that a solar flare or terrorist attack could darken the grid for a year, during which most of those supplied by the grid would die.

“Modernization of the grid has been made all the more urgent by the increasing and now virtually pervasive dependence of modern life on a reliable supply of electricity,” said the just-issued Energy Department report.

“Without that, navigation; telecommunication; the financial system; healthcare; emergency response; and the Internet, as well as all that depends on it, become unreliable. Yet the threats to the grid — ranging from geomagnetic storms that can knock out crucial transformers; to terrorist attacks on transmission lines and substations; to more flooding, faster sea-level rise and increasingly powerful storms from global climate change — have been growing even as society’s dependence on the grid has increased,” the report said on page S-5.

The concerns are no joke. To reinforce concerns, the DOE report cited another report from the National Research Center titled, “Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System” that described the doom America would feel after an attack:

The electric power delivery system that carries electricity from large central generators to customers could be severely damaged by a small number of well-informed attackers. The system is inherently vulnerable because transmission lines may span hundreds of miles, and many key facilities are unguarded.

This vulnerability is exacerbated by the fact that the power grid, most of which was originally designed to meet the needs of individual vertically integrated utilities, is being used to move power between regions to support the needs of competitive markets for power generation. Primarily because of ambiguities introduced as a result of recent restricting of the industry and cost pressures from consumers and regulators, investment to strengthen and upgrade the grid has lagged, with the result that many parts of the bulk high-voltage system are heavily stressed.

Electric systems are not designed to withstand or quickly recover from damage inflicted simultaneously on multiple components. Such an attack could be carried out by knowledgeable attackers with little risk of detection or interdiction. Further well-planned and coordinated attacks by terrorists could leave the electric power system in a large region of the country at least partially disabled for a very long time.

Although there are many examples of terrorist and military attacks on power systems elsewhere in the world, at the time of this study international terrorists have shown limited interest in attacking the U.S. power grid. However, that should not be a basis for complacency. Because all parts of the economy, as well as human health and welfare, depend on electricity, the results could be devastating.


It is somewhat reassuring to see that (finally) the Department of Energy is beginning to realize the precarious position we’ve put ourselves in by inaction. Everyone has been kicking the electric grid can down the road on the rose-colored assumption that disaster won’t ever strike our electrical transmission system and we’ll all live happily ever after.

I’ve been afraid that it would take a terrorist  attack or a sun-powered CME to hit us before anyone would consider hardening the lifeblood of our national existence. I’ve seen no evidence that our national government is likely to do anything to preempt a national disaster caused by a grid collapse – they don’t have the political cojones to do it. Why spend billions on protecting our way of life for millions of citizens when the administration could buy more votes by spending it on a few million illegals. Of course, if they could blame it on climate change, that’s a different matter.

We’ll see. Keep your fingers crossed.




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10 Responses to DOE warns ‘modern life’ threatened by terror, climate threats to electric grid

  1. Hardnox says:

    Good post. It is way past time that this assessment was made. The warnings have been coming for years. I remember when a transformer blew in California long ago and it took out large sections of CA, Oregon, and Nevada. A replacement transformer had to be flown in from Germany. A similar event took out parts of NY, PA, NH and even Canada. That little blip that took out parts of DC metro due to a loose wire in Southern MD a few weeks ago shows how vulnerable we are.

    I have absolutely zero confidence that anything will be done until we get hit. Then big G will spend 100 times more to fix it then if it were done as a planned hardening. I read a piece recently where it would cost each electrical customer a mere $20 a year to fund the upgrades.

    • Garnet92 says:

      Thanks ‘Nox. Like you, I don’t have any confidence that we’ll do anything until some disaster strikes – that’s become our habit. I’ve also seen numbers like that. If people were really aware of what that $20 bill would protect them against, they’d be clamoring for action.

  2. Kathy says:

    It’s a start, right? I noticed they tossed in climate change as part of the cause. Better to blame the weather than their failure to address it, and that they failed to fix it at a time when it would have been less expensive to repair.

    I read the other day that the utilities lobby constantly against the repairs because it will cost them huge amounts of money. It’s no wonder the government hasn’t addressed it – why would they do that and stop the money flow?

    Depending on where and what type of hit there is, Texas may be okay to some degree since we have our own grid and legislators are taking steps to harden it.

    • Garnet92 says:

      All good points Kathy. Isn’t that convenient (as the Church Lady would say) that they mention climate change? And of course the utilities don’t WANT to spend money on preventive measures, but it really is short-sighted. If we do have some sort of grid collapse, they can flush their profits down the crapper for years.

      I think that we have a better-than-even chance of surviving a grid disaster since the biggest bang for a terrorist’s buck would be in the Northeast. Frankly, most of the U.S. wouldn’t care if the disaster struck only Texas, whereas if a terrorist strike could affect the populous Northeast and much of the East coast, that would cause more of a problem for the nation. For that reason and the fact that Texas can be somewhat self-sufficient relative to electric power, I like our chances.

  3. CW says:

    I don’t understand why the Republicans don’t make this a centerpiece of their presidential campaigns, because it’s a win from either side. They can point to the Democrats’ failure to do anything at all about the risk under Barack Obama, and they can promise to make securing the electrical grid a priority of their administration. It would be a refreshing change from the same old campaign rhetoric and I think it would highlight the lack of seriousness on the Democrat side.

    • Uriel says:

      Good point but then it would mean people are alerted to incompetency of government Think how much money lines pockets on climate change. Could have been better spent upgrading the stability of infrastructure. Even O at least mentioned. In speeches. Just made sure nothing was allocated– design or altzheimers ?

    • Garnet92 says:

      I think that there’ll be little mention of the grid because such a small part of the population is even aware of the potential problem. Those of us who are aware would welcome some concrete measures taken to insulate us from a major disaster, but, alas, we are but a few and the masses aren’t listening to us.

  4. tannngl says:

    There’s nothing there that will help our country. This admin lies at the drop of a hat. No question the power grid needs upgrading and work to prevent terrorist harm AND EMP attack. But look what O is doing with coal. The loss of power production is going to be fatal to some.

    I don’t believe them.

    It’s just another way to increase taxes.

    • Garnet92 says:

      We keep hearing talk about our crumbling infrastructure – and that’s true, but if a bridge goes down, maybe a few hundred are killed, if several bridges fall, maybe a thousand die, but if the electric grid goes down for a few months, many thousands will die. For me, there is no more important part of our infrastructure than the electric grid. And, the electric companies are on the hook for part of the costs, they just need the feds to push them and participate to a degree.

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