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La Grande Observer 12/22/14

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Home arrow Opinion arrow OUR VIEW: Ensuring the safety of the grid

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OUR VIEW: Ensuring the safety of the grid

We live in a modern, high-tech society that seems faster all the time. Yet, our link to all the iPads and computers and even cellphones depends upon one thing — power.

When the power goes out a seemingly modern, 21st century culture is transported — literally in moments — into the 19th century.

A recent story in this newspaper by staff writer Pat Caldwell regarding fears regarding the vulnerability of the power grid outlined the action by a group of U.S. senators and federal agencies to try to address what is often an under-the-radar kind of potential risk.

The action by the senators — including Democratic Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden — stemmed in large part from a mysterious and still unsolved attack on a major power substation in California in 2013. The attack was carried out with military precision and knocked out more than 10 expensive and crucial power transformers that supplied electricity to the Silicon Valley. 

The attack — which slid under the collective consciousness of America — sent off warning bells among some government leaders because it highlighted what a worst-case scenario could look like.

Those doubts about the safety of the nation’s power grid, while not new, sparked Wyden, along with three other senators, to ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to investigate. In February, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which controls the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas and oil, in turn directed the North American Electric Reliability Corp. to develop reliability standards that required owners and operators of the nation’s bulk-power system to address possible physical threats to the grid. The North American Electric Reliability Corp. or NERC, fashioned a set of proposed reliability standards and now has 90 days to streamline the proposals.

The move by the senators — and specifically Wyden — was a sound one. While it didn’t get a lot of attention, it should have. Power is one of those elements to modern society we all take for granted. Until it goes out. Ensuring that the vast American power grid is not only safe but protected is prudent. Clearly there is only so much any one organization — or, for the matter, the government — can do to ensure the grid is secure. After all, the grid stretches across the entire continent, from coast to coast. Authorities can’t be everywhere all the time. Still, reviewing the grid, and the possible impacts from an attack such as the one in California, makes a whole lot of sense. 

For a change, the machinery moved rapidly in this case and that should be lauded as well. Electricity is easy to overlook and take for granted. But if the lights go out for a long period of time, the potential cost far outweighs the risk of ignorance.

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