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Think tank calls on Texas to develop plan for protecting electric grid

Texas has its own contained, independent electric powergrid, and it therefore should craft its own plan for dealing with potentialcyber, physical and electromagnetic pulse attacks or solar storms, according toa free-market policy group.

"Texas legislators and utilities can no longer rely onreactive antivirus and intrusion detection policies pushed down from thefederal government," the National Center for Policy Analysis said in abrief new report. "They have the opportunity to craft comprehensive,state-level policies that would fortify the Texas grid against an advancedcyberattack."

Among other solutions, the study suggested that Texas equipits electric grid with surge protectors to prevent transformers fromoverloading. A congressional commission estimated that adding surge protectorsnationwide would cost about $2.0 billion, which would translate to about $260million for Texas alone considering the state consumes about 13% of U.S.electric generation, the report said.

The report also pointed to recently developed technology fordetecting, isolating and characterizing attempted cyberattacks. The so-called "phasormeasurement unit" synchronizes and compiles voltage and energydistribution data to help identify harmful anomalies before they compromise alarger portion of the power system.

On the national level, the North American ElectricReliability Corp. develops mandatory reliability standards for the bulk powersystem, including for risks posed by potential geomagnetic disturbances caused by solar storms. Texas'selectric grid is managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas Inc., andcompliance with NERC's reliability standards is enforced within the state byTexas Reliability Entity Inc.

But individual states and utilities are also working todevelop best practices, defense and response plans for possible cyberattacks ornaturally occurring events like solar storms that could disrupt the electricgrid. For instance, Iowa recently launched its owncybersecurity planfor critical infrastructure, and several public-private partnerships andinitiatives have been established to prepare the bulk power system forcyberattacks, including NERC's GridEx drills.

Concerns over a potential malicious cyberattack have grownfollowing an attackon Ukraine's electric grid in December 2015 that temporarily left about 225,000customers without power. The breach was blamed on Russian security services.