- - Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Our nation’s economy, security, and public health depend on the reliable supply of electricity. The electric grid is the backbone of our economy. However, new risks have emerged as our electricity system has become more interconnected and digitized, and industrial control systems increasingly allow remote access.

Over the past few years, there have been a number of attempts by foreign actors to infiltrate the nation’s energy systems. Most recently, the Biden administration issued a warning that advanced persistent threats or highly skilled hackers have exhibited the capability to gain full access to disrupt the U.S. energy sector. While past responses to these increased threats have been uneven on the part of utilities due to different levels of resources because of their size or the region they serve the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was signed into law includes provisions to help address these threats.

As co-chair of the House Grid Innovation Caucus, along with my colleague, Congressman Bob Latta (OH-R), I have long focused on policy solutions to enhance grid reliability and maximize the energy efficiency of the grid. Two pieces of legislation that Congressman Latta and I introduced were folded into this recent historic package: the Enhancing Grid Security Through Public-Private Partnerships Act, which directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to facilitate and use public-private partnerships to address the physical and cybersecurity risks of electric utilities, including through training, information sharing, and technical assistance; and the Cyber Sense Act, which establishes a DOE program to test the cybersecurity reliability of products and technologies used in the bulk-power system in order to mitigate cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

These new programs will help fill critical gaps by enabling increased information sharing, making technical expertise more readily available, and establishing a much-needed cybersecurity vulnerability reporting process and database. They will strengthen the electric utility system while strengthening partnerships between DOE and industry. By enhancing formal channels of communication and cooperation, the successful protocols that may have prevented a cyberattack on just one utility can now be shared for the benefit of the whole power system.

Preventing power outages from cyberattacks is crucial to protecting American lives and businesses. However, enhancing cybersecurity is not the singular solution to safeguarding our energy future. Physical threats are becoming increasingly severe due to climate change including wildfires, hurricanes, and deep freezes. Repeated power interruptions from each of these disasters have occurred in the last few years from public safety power shutoffs and other grid disruptions in California to widespread outages following Hurricane Ida in New Orleans to an unprecedented energy crisis due to Winter Storm Uri in Texas, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives. We must harden our energy infrastructure to protect against physical threats including kinetic attacks in addition to promoting forward-thinking energy policies that reduce our fossil fuel dependency. It is essential that we adapt our grid to respond to the challenges of the modern era by decarbonizing our power generation, increasing storage, and harnessing new technology that can make better use of the energy we produce in the right places at the right times.

All of this will require federal investment, as well as a strong commitment from industry. We have made significant strides with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and in the coming months, Congress will continue to push forward solutions to help strengthen, protect, and future-proof our energy infrastructure.

• U.S. Representative Jerry McNerney, California Democrat, represents the state’s 9th Congressional District. He has served in Congress since 2007, and sits on the House Energy & Commerce Committee and the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology.

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