Information-sharing is critical to the security of the electric grid
by Ajaz SadiqBy Ajaz Sadiq
Protecting the nation’s electric power grid and ensuring an affordable, reliable and secure supply of energy are top priorities for electric cooperatives and the electric power industry as a whole. The North American power system is becoming more complex as additional automation and remote access capabilities are added to grid operations. Accordingly, system owners and operators have the greatest expertise in responding to and mitigating threats and vulnerabilities to the grid. Every day, the electric power industry continuously monitors the bulk electric system and responds to events large and small. Consumers are rarely aware of these events, primarily because of the industry’s planning, coordination, response and resiliency activities.
Electric cooperative perspective
The industry has decades of experience working together to protect our shared infrastructure. We constantly reevaluate threats and take steps to protect the systems.
As member-owned, not-for-profit utilities, electric cooperatives make protection and security of our consumer-members’ assets a high priority. Cooperatives nationally work with industry partners and government agencies to develop effective approaches to protecting our systems, which cover nearly three-quarters of the country’s landmass.
Electric cooperatives have participated in the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) standards development process. Today, that process has made the electric utility industry one of the nation’s only industries to have mandatory enforceable cyber security standards. Failing to comply with these standards can result in fines of up to $1 million per day per violation.
Legislative priorities and positions
In nearly all situations, electric cooperatives can protect the parts of the bulk electric system we own or operate without government intelligence information. However, in the limited circumstances when government intelligence information (classified and unclassified) is needed on a particular threat or vulnerability, that information must be timely and actionable. After receiving this information, co-ops can then direct our expert operators and cyber security staff to make the needed adjustments to systems and networks to ensure the reliability and security of the bulk electric system.
We support efforts underway in Congress aimed at increasing the amount of actionable intelligence electric cooperatives can access, thereby helping us do an even better job of protecting the grid. Voluntary cyber security information-sharing between governments is critical in addressing threats against our national infrastructure — the majority of which is owned by the private sector. Electric cooperatives support legislation that encourages voluntary cyber security information-sharing between government and industry, while preserving existing partnerships and ensuring liability and protective measures that maintains the security of private data.