Highley Talks Electric Grid Protection with Senate Panel

July 12, 2016—Owners and operators of the nation’s electric grid continuously strive to protect it from physical and cyber intrusions, an electric co-op official told Senate lawmakers today.

But the public may be getting a skewed picture of the extent of damage even major grid disruptions are likely to cause.

“Often news headlines about cyber or physical threats to the electric grid focus on far-fetched and sensational scenarios,” said Duane Highley, president and CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation. “While real threats to the grid exist, such worst-case scenarios rarely reflect the true threat environment.”

Highley made his remarks during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources subpanel hearing on guarding against energy disruptions, with a focus on the Securing Energy Infrastructure Act (S. 3018).

He spoke to Energy Subcommittee members about the power sector’s approach to grid security and steps Congress could take to support co-ops and other utilities in these efforts.

Highley said the electricity industry takes a “defense-in-depth” approach to critical infrastructure protection, which encompasses preparation, prevention, response and recovery from a wide variety of potential grid threats.

He also stressed the importance of partnerships and information sharing, noting that NRECA, cooperatives, industry partners and government agencies work closely together to develop effective approaches to protecting the bulk electric system.

Highley co-chairs the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council, which serves as the power sector’s main policy-level liaison to the federal government.

In closing, Highley thanked lawmakers for enacting legislation to bolster grid protection efforts last year and discussed additional ways legislators can help. He said that while government information provided to the industry about the December 2015 Ukraine event was very helpful, it could have been delivered in a more timely fashion.

And he called on Congress to consider legislation giving the Federal Bureau of Investigation the authority to assist the electricity industry upon request with fingerprint-based, criminal and terrorist database background checks for industry personnel that perform critical functions.

NRECA Receives Cybersecurity Award

In related news, the U.S. Department of Energy today announced $15 million in new funding for NRECA and the American Public Power Association (APPA) to strengthen cybersecurity and physical security at small and mid-sized utilities.

Over the next three years, NRECA will collaborate with APPA to develop security tools and educational resources, update guidelines and training materials.  Cooperatives will assess their cybersecurity programs, identify and address priorities, test strengths and weakness of existing systems, integrate new technologies, and share information that will enable the utility sector as a whole to build on lessons learned.

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.