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How Do We Protect the Grid?

November 27, 2012

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, former New York Governor George Pataki observed that “Superstorm Sandy exposed perhaps the greatest flaw underpinning the American way of life: insecure and unreliable electrical infrastructure.”

Governor Pataki’s prescription for addressing this threat involves many extremely expensive fixes: more underground distribution and transmission networks, more distributed and dispersed generation, reform of FEMA emergency funding, and expanded smart grid implementation. Of course, we all grieve for the lives and property lost during the recent storm along the east coast. But given the fact that grid reliability is generally very high in this country with the current infrastructure, are electricity ratepayers prepared to pay substantially higher bills to “gold-plate” the system in an effort to protect against these occasional lengthy outages caused by extreme weather events?

At the same time, many in Congress are sounding the alarm about potential cybersecurity threats and the potential implications of those threats to the electric grid. Although a recent effort to pass cybersecurity legislation failed, similar legislation will resurface in the coming months and the question will be this: How far should we go to safeguard the grid from the bad guys but at the same time keep electricity rates affordable?

Adding to the grid reliability concerns is the continued push by some folks to incorporate more intermittent, renewable generation into the power supply mix. All of these issues combine to make for very interesting times for those of us in the electric utility business. We hope policymakers will find the right balance between affordable electricity, grid security, and environmental concerns.

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