Threats to the Electric Grid

Obama Issues Executive Order to Protect Grid Against “Space Weather”

Unable to talk about the threat from Iran, the order at least offers some potential to begin addressing the danger posed by long term loss of power.

BY CounterJihad · @CounterjihadUS | October 17, 2016

US President Barack Obama has issued an executive order directing an “all-of-nation” effort to prepare for the disruptive effects of “space weather.”  “Space weather” principally means solar events that could disrupt or destroy electrical grid capabilities.  Such solar events occur with some regularity, enough that sooner or later we are going to get hit by one.  In the event of a major loss of power from an event of this type, it could take years to restore power.  American deaths from loss of power would begin within days, however, as water pumping and sewage treatment failed in major cities.  Food shipments would also become unavailable, and large cities do not contain sufficient food for more than a few days.  A blue-ribbon panel that examined the issue for Congress found that up to 90% of the American population might not survive such an event.

Thus, the President’s move here is a wise one — or rather, half of a wise one.  The danger posed by the sun is also posed by man-made electromagnetic pulses (EMPs), which can be generated by even a single nuclear weapon of antiquated design.  The President is unfortunately locked by his own rhetoric into the pretense that his “Iran deal” is slowing Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.  The pretense wears thinner by the day, with Iran installing advanced anti-aircraft missiles that it purchased as an effect of the deal around a site supposedly demilitarized by the deal.  Why, then, does it need such advanced weapons to protect it from an American airstrike?

By the same token, if the deal is working so well, why is Iran taking the funding its Revolutionary Guards Corps obtained, and using it to support Houthi rebels who have now launched repeated attacks on American warships?

Unfortunately, having set up an “echo chamber” to sell the Iran deal as an act of unalloyed diplomatic wisdom, the President cannot now admit that he has helped to realize the dangers of an Iranian EMP attack on the United States.  Many things that might be done to forestall such an attack cannot now be done, at least not until a new President takes office next year.  Instead, the President is committed to blocking even Congressional efforts to deal with Iran’s acts of war against the United States.

Still, the space weather order can be used to cover a number of the weaknesses of the President’s Iran policy on this score.  Though many of the order’s provisions are aimed quite specifically at solar threats, other provisions can also be used to pursue a hardened or resilient grid.  For example, the order directs the Secretary of Energy to “facilitate the protection and restoration of the reliability of the electrical power grid during a presidentially declared grid security emergency associated with a geomagnetic disturbance[.]”  The preparations for such an action might also be employed to create the capacity to respond to a man-made EMP attack, if they are wisely designed.

Likewise, section 5 of the order, subsections (a) and (b) are potentially applicable to a wider range of threats than the ones they identify by name.

(a) Within 120 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of Energy, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall develop a plan to test and evaluate available devices that mitigate the effects of geomagnetic disturbances on the electrical power grid through the development of a pilot program that deploys such devices, in situ, in the electrical power grid. After the development of the plan, the Secretary shall implement the plan in collaboration with industry. In taking action pursuant to this subsection, the Secretaries of Energy and Homeland Security shall consult with the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

(b) Within 120 days of the date of this order, the heads of the sector-specific agencies that oversee the lifeline critical infrastructure functions as defined by the National Infrastructure Protection Plan of 2013 — including communications, energy, transportation, and water and wastewater systems — as well as the Nuclear Reactors, Materials, and Waste Sector, shall assess their executive and statutory authority, and limits of that authority, to direct, suspend, or control critical infrastructure operations, functions, and services before, during, and after a space weather event. The heads of each sector-specific agency shall provide a summary of these assessments to the Subcommittee.

Emphasis added.  Many of the technologies that would be effective against a solar threat, such as Faraday cages around key infrastructure, would also be effective against man-made EMPs.

Thus, this is potentially a strong move by the President depending on the manner of its implementation.  It is not as strong as it could be were its author not sworn to uphold a fictional view of the world, and of the threats faced by the United States.  But there is some room for us to make important moves here, even while making believe that the President and the Secretary of State have been wise instead of massively foolish in their negotiations with Iran.


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