Protecting the Grid is Affordable

Congress will shortly reconvene and consider funding the terrible 2,700-page, $1.2 trillion so-called Infrastructure Bill, no doubt linked by Speaker Pelosi to passage of a $3.5 trillion “social safety net” bill reminiscent of the Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and/or Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” spending on what some have called “human infrastructure.”

My August 9th article emphasized that the Infrastructure Bill ignores the electric grid, in particular leaving it vulnerable to an existential threat from an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, and that its proposed $1.2 trillion funding included a major shortfall — hundreds-of-billions-of-dollars.

More recently, I found that my assumptions were incorrect about provisions that could be exploited in ongoing negotiations to provide needed funding.

For example — after studying the Infrastructure Bill, Jeff St. John reported that the $73 billion claimed in a July 28 White House fact sheet to be “the single largest investment in clean energy transmission in American history;” but an August 2 updated fact sheet reduced that number to $65 billion, while still “building thousands of miles of new, resilient transmission lines to facilitate the expansion of renewable energy.”

After a closer look at the bill, St. John further observed that very little of that $65 billion is dedicated to building the high-voltage transmission lines that some experts say the U.S. needs to enable the level of wind and solar power deployment necessary to decarbonize the grid. Note this is all about the “green energy” interests, as I noted in my last article.

He notes that between $11 billion and $14 billion is aimed at making the existing grid more resilient — sounds like a possible source for improvements and without building new power lines.

$2.5 billion targets transmission grid expansion, in the form of federal loans to help projects reach financial viability. And other funding streams would likely involve “little more than $5 billion total.”

And the bill’s other transmission-specific provision — giving federal agencies more authority over siting new power lines — doesn’t address the cost challenges that have stymied new transmission development over the past decade. So says a letter sent last week from 50 companies and groups to the leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee.

I strongly encourage you to read this letter and St. John’s article, which are very informative, including references to Federal Loans and Grants possibilities for updating the High Voltage Transmission Lines and the Electric Power Plants that compose the “Bulk Power Grid.”

But they offer little help for improving the existing Distribution Grid that actually delivers electricity to support America’s citizens, their homes and vital supporting critical infrastructure — water-wastewater, hospitals, emergency management, essential communications, etc.

The remainder of my article today focuses on costs to protect the entire Grid against EMP, which as far as I can tell is being completely ignored in ongoing congressional discussions of how to spend trillions on infrastructure, whatever they call their version of infrastructure.

In numerous articles, including my most recent, I have discussed the Lake Wylie Pilot Study, which involved a very competent assessment of the EMP vulnerability of the Distribution Grid of Rock Hill, the fourth- or fifth- largest South Carolina city, and the rest of York County, SC.

The estimated cost to protect it to the same standard employed for our most important military systems was less than $100 per York County Citizen — a one-time cost, plus easily affordable annual hardness assurance funding to maintain the protected Distribution Grid.

About $20 million is needed to validate that $100-per-citizen estimate by actually hardening the York County Distribution Grid. With another $10 million-$15 million, a specific plan can be developed to harden the Distribution Grid in South and North Carolina — and throughout the nation.

If validated, that estimate implies hardening the nation’s Distribution Grid would cost $30 billion-$35 billion, distributed over a number of years.

Such an assessment would be conducted in concert with engineers from Duke Energy, one of the nation’s largest energy companies, which is particularly pertinent because Duke owns and manages the Bulk Power Grid in York County and surrounding counties in South and North Carolina. Duke engineers have been involved with the Lake Wylie Pilot Study since its inception over six years ago.

I have seen only one comprehensive cost estimate for protecting the Bulk Power Grid against the EMP threat — one begun several years ago by the Foundation for Resilience Societies and last revised in September 2020. The “powers that be” should consider that important report.

In particular, Figure 5 on page 11 illustrates how the Bulk Power Grid and Distribution Grid are connected via critically important step-up and step-down transformers that, as discussed in my July 22nd article, have never been tested against threat-level EMP, or to my knowledge systematically against cyber threats. Hundreds have been purchased from China — including some recently.

After considering the bulk power grid in a detailed analysis of all key components, the foundation’s cost estimate to protecting the entire U.S. Bulk Power Grid would be about $25 billion-a-year for 10 years — on a per capita basis, $79 a year. I strongly suggest you read the entire report — beginning with its excellent one-page executive summary.

As Congress debates spending part of its $1.3 trillion on what is at least disputable “infrastructure,” how can it not invest a small fraction of that to assure our electric power grid is survivable?

The Infrastructure Bill already seeks to address our cybersecurity vulnerabilities — how can Congress not include the most threatening cyberattack strategy — that is included in the military doctrine of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran?

Most, if not all, of these threats are now of even greater concern in the wake of the Afghanistan debacle.