Claverack Rural Electric Cooperative CEO Discusses Electricity Grid Protection with House Lawmakers

(WASHINGTON) — Claverack Rural Electric Cooperative President and CEO Bobbi Kilmer today told a House Transportation and Infrastructure subpanel that regardless of the cause of a power outage, restoring service as quickly and safely as possible requires advance planning and coordination across the public and private sectors.

Kilmer made her remarks (PDF) during a hearing of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management on managing the aftermath of a cyber-attack or other disturbance to the electric grid. She spoke on behalf of Claverack, based in Wysox, Penn., and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

“Electric utilities, including co-ops, have spent decades creating redundancies to enhance their security measures, but threats to both physical and cyber security are evolving,” she told lawmakers. “In response, industry continues to work together along with federal, state, and local security and law enforcement agencies to enhance the security of its critical infrastructure.”

Kilmer noted that the Electric Sub-Sector Coordinating Council, the power sector’s principal liaison with the federal government, coordinates policy efforts to prevent, prepare for, and respond to incidents affecting critical infrastructure at the national level. At the local level, Claverack’s statewide association of electric co-ops joins forces with the Pennsylvania utility commission’s Critical Infrastructure Interdependency Working Group, which comprises all utilities and services that would be affected by a major event within the state.

In addition, Kilmer emphasized the importance of “knowing your community,” noting that her co-op’s employees live and work in the neighborhoods they serve. She also highlighted the importance of mutual assistance—agreements under which co-ops and other utilities lend crews or other resources to assist with another power provider’s restoration efforts. In preparation for Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Pennsylvania co-ops secured crews from as far away as Florida to help with recovery efforts. The vast majority of NRECA members participate in mutual assistance agreements.

Whether the issue at hand is a possible attack on the electric grid or the wrath of Mother Nature, Kilmer said the cooperative difference makes all the difference in planning for and responding to major service disruptions.

“Because we are owned by the members we serve, electric cooperatives reflect the values of our membership and are uniquely focused on providing reliable energy at the lowest reasonable cost,” she said. “When the lights do go out, our goal is to minimize any service disruption to our members and the communities in which they live.”

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.