Political Animal

Blog

November 14, 2012 4:54 PM Black-Out Ops

By Ed Kilgore

In his brief summary of Jeffrey Leonard’s article in the new November/December issue of the Monthly on the imperative of shifting to relatively cheap, clean and plentiful natural gas to power much more of America’s electricity generating system, Paul Glastris emphasized the economic and environmental advantages of Leonard’s recommendations. But there’s a national security angle, too, as Leonard pointed out in discussing the increasing vulnerability to terrorist attacks of our outdated power grid.

Today this issue was underlined by the release of a previously classified 2007 report from the National Academy of Sciences that suggests terrorist attacks (physical or “cyber”) on the power grid could wreak havoc and cost untold damage to life and property. Here’s how Bloomberg’s Brian Wingfield and Jeff Bliss explain the essentials of the report:

A terrorist attack on the U.S. power grid could be more destructive than superstorm Sandy, possibly costing hundreds of billions of dollars and leading to thousands of deaths, the National Academy of Sciences said.
While such an event probably wouldn’t kill people immediately, it could cause widespread blackouts for weeks or months, according to a recently declassified report released today by the Academy. If it occurred during extreme weather, heat stress or exposure to cold may lead to “hundreds or even thousands of deaths,” the authors of the study wrote. “An event of this magnitude and duration could lead to turmoil, widespread public fear, and an image of helplessness that would play directly into the hands of the terrorists,” they said.
While other entities have issued reports on electric-grid vulnerabilities, the study released today provides an unusually stark picture of what might happen if hackers, extremist groups, disgruntled employees or even energy companies sabotage the nation’s power network. It calls for the government to create a national inventory of portable generation equipment that can be used during such an event.
An attack “could be carried out by knowledgeable attackers with little risk of detection or interdiction,” it said.

Yikes. So if the idea of cleaner and cheaper electricity doesn’t grab you, maybe making our electrical generation system less vulnerable to mayhem might lead you to a close reading of Leonard’s fine piece.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • SecularAnimist on November 14, 2012 5:06 PM:

    Ed Kilgore wrote: "... relatively cheap, clean and plentiful natural gas to power much more of America’s electricity generating system ..."

    WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.

    Natural gas is NOT "clean". The total CO2 emissions from the natural gas fuel cycle are not much less than those from coal.

    And natural gas is only "cheap" and "plentiful" if you are talking about massive amounts of hydraulic fracking being perperated all over the USA, which is itself an environmental disaster.

    STOP SHILLING FOR THE FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY. Read the latest IEA report. We need to stop burning ALL fossil fuels as soon as possible. Far from burning more natural gas to "power much more of America’s electricity generating system", we need to stop building ANY new fossil fuel infrastructure NOW.

    And stop conflating your misguided advocacy for burning more hydro-fracked gas with the entirely different issue of upgrading the power grid.

    The best way to make the power grid more robust and resilient against threats like hacking and solar flares and weather of mass destruction is to emphasize distributed wind and solar power generation connected by Internet-like distributed microgrids. A grid that is built around centralized large-scale nuclear and fossil fueled power plants is inherently vulnerable.

  • boatboy_srq on November 14, 2012 5:28 PM:

    Today this issue was underlined by the release of a previously classified 2007 report from the National Academy of Sciences that suggests terrorist attacks (physical or “cyber”) on the power grid could wreak havoc and cost untold damage to life and property.

    Did anyone think to mention to these geniuses that we've already had a "terrorist attack on the power grid," and that we've already seen a sample of the results? 2001. California. Enron. 'Nuff said.

  • Sixes on November 14, 2012 7:06 PM:

    It would awfully hard for terrorists to cause much disruption to the grid if the grid consisted of every home with its own solar panels, supplemented by local solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy.

  • Doug on November 14, 2012 7:19 PM:

    Sixes has it nailed. Decentralization would make such any an attack much less dangerous. Nor would have to be a "Manhattan Project" style decentralization; tax credits and requiring current electricity providers to purchase excess home-generated electricity would go a long way to accomplish that.

    And, once again, SecularAnimist demonstrates what happens when what someone THINKS they've read doesn't match what was actually posted.

  • Neil Bates on November 14, 2012 8:05 PM:

    Yes, natural gas still adds CO2 to the atmosphere so we need more renewables in due course and IMHO, some nuclear as well to tide us over. Without nearby Surry Nuclear Plant, plenty of carbon would have been put out while we wait for better alternatives.