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Utility associations praise investigation into release of US FERC grid analysis


The leading US electric utility trade groups on Monday backed calls to investigate how a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission analysis of grid vulnerabilities made its way into the press, while at the same time denying claims that industry is not taking grid security seriously.

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"We support your efforts to discover the facts surrounding this unfortunate release of information and ensure that it does not happen in the future, so that our partnership with the government remains strong, and we can continue to work collaboratively on protecting the electric infrastructure which is critical to national security and public safety," the letter said.

Signing the letter were the Edison Electric Institute, representing investor-owned utilities, the American Public Power Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The letter followed calls last week by US senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, for the Department of Energy's Office of Inspector General to investigate how details from a FERC analysis detailing critical assets on the grid appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

Citing the FERC analysis, the Journal reported that a coordinated attack on just nine of the 55,000 electric transmission substations in the US would cripple the grid and produce a nationwide blackout.

The trade associations on Monday commended Murkowski and Landrieu "for your efforts to prevent public disclosure of sensitive information that could jeopardize that security if it fell into the wrong hands." They also dismissed as "inaccurate" the perception that the recent uptick in attention to grid security has "suddenly spurred the industry to action, or somehow enhanced grid security."

"Our industry has long been working to improve grid security in a collaborative effort with our government partners to help address vulnerabilities on the electric system. Disclosure of sensitive information like this complicates efforts to protect our critical infrastructure while maintaining appropriate information sharing efforts," the associations said.

In their letter last week, Landrieu and Murkowski commended the IG for launching a review and highlighted the potential damage documents such as the FERC analysis could do. And while they said it was unclear if the documents cited in the news story are "credible," they stated that "disclosing and sensationalizing them, as it appears was the work of the person who gave them to the newspaper, is highly irresponsible or worse."

But Former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff on Friday disputed claims that the analysis was "non-public," saying that the results of the analysis had been shared with "literally hundreds of people" in government and industry. He also said that the analysis "simply confirmed what we already know" and have known since the early 1980s -- that knocking out a small number of substations could disrupt the grid.

"I'm not clear what secret was closely held," Wellinghoff said.

--Bobby McMahon,
--Edited by Lisa Miller,