Ex-CIA chief Slams Smart Grid

By Kennedy Maize

Washington, D.C., August 14, 2011 — I don’t often agree with former CIA director James Woolsey. In fact, I can’t think of a time that I have ever agreed with him.

Until this week, that is, when Woolsey offered a short, sharp elbow to the policy ribs of the smart grid during an appearance on Energy Now, a weekly TV energy-related news show (financed by gas company Chesapeake Energy).

In a 1-minute segment on the show, Woolsey said, “they’re constructing a smart grid that will make it easier for you or me to all our homes on our cell phones and turn down our air conditioner on a hot afternoon. But that may well mean that a hacker in Shanghai can do the same thing with his cell phone, or worse. A so-called smart grid that’s as vulnerable as what we’ve got is not smart at all. It’s a really, really stupid grid.”

Woolsey said a key part of the problem is that no one is in charge. “You can search forever through the federal code to find who that person might be,” he said. Woolsey suggested that the proper federal official to regulate grid security is the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He added that it would be a good idea for the Pentagon to work with local utilities on beefing up the security weaknesses of the grid.

The pointed remarks from the former CIA chief drew praise from Consumer Reports. The publication of Consumers Union said it “has also expressed concerns about the smart grid, though our issues stem from the fct that it is not clear whether consumers will reap any real savings, or whether utility companies will come out ahead.” Consumers Union was one of five consumer groups that last August issued a 28-page report detailing their objections to current trends in smart grid policy and development. Also joining Consumers Union were the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, AARP, National Consumer Law Center, and Public Citizen.

The consumer groups’ report raised several complaints about the current approach to the smart grid, including cyber security. The report said, “While utilities typically assure regulators and policymakers that their new Smart Grid systems will meet all required standards, more work is needed to examine the resources, skills, and investments necessary to actually implement those standards, monitor systems, and spot potentially dangerous intrusions and attempts to infiltrate the utility’s data systems through the new meters.”