A newly established U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) office dedicated to cybersecurity, energy security, and emergency response may be a signal that it is elevating its focus on emerging grid threats.
The Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) will use $96 million in funding included in President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget to bolster the DOE’s efforts in cybersecurity and energy security, the agency said on February 14. It will be led by an assistant secretary who will focus on “energy infrastructure security, support the expanded national security responsibilities assigned to the Department and report to the Under Secretary of Energy,” the DOE said.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in a statement that the new office “best positions” the agency to address emerging threats while ensuring grid reliability. “DOE plays a vital role in protecting our nation’s energy infrastructure from cyber threats, physical attack and natural disaster, and as Secretary, I have no higher priority,” he said.
Perry has pushed for reform of electricity markets to protect baseload generation—especially coal and nuclear plants—under the banner of ensuring grid resiliency and reliability. In September, he proposed the DOE’s controversial “Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule” that essentially directed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)—an independent regulatory government agency that is officially organized as part of the DOE—to exercise its authority under sections 205 and 206 of the Federal Power Act (FPA) and require that independent system operators (ISOs) and regional transmission organizations (RTOs) “establish just and reasonable rates for wholesale electricity sales” for power plants that show “reliability and resiliency attributes.” The DOE required the commission to act on the notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) by January 10, after the agency granted it a 30-day extension.
However, FERC’s five commissioners unanimously rejected the DOE’s rule on January 8. Instead, FERC initiated a new proceeding specifically to evaluate the resilience of the bulk power system in regions operated by RTOs and ISOs. Unlike the DOE’s rule, which focused on a resource’s availability of secure onsite fuel, with the new measure, FERC expects to consider characteristics such as wholesale market design, transmission planning, mandatory reliability standards, emergency action plan development, inventory management, and routine system maintenance.
Industry, which has worked with the DOE on many issues including response to the historic 2017 hurricane season, lauded the establishment of CESER as an indication that the DOE has elevated its function to protect the nation’s grid.
“We value the Department of Energy’s partnership as the electricity industry’s sector specific agency, and expect the new CESER office will play an essential role in coordinating government and industry efforts to address evolving threats to the energy grid,” said Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn in a statement on February 14.
National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) also commended the DOE on its designation of a new office, saying the issues under CESER’s purview are critical to operation of a safe, reliable, and resilient grid needed to support the nation’s energy infrastructure. “DOE’s expanded emphasis on these issues supports our members in their efforts to serve the public interest,” said NARUC President John Betkoski III, who is also vice chair at the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.
The DOE already has an office dedicated to ensure the nation’s energy delivery system is secure. The Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) was created in 2005, in the aftermath of the August 2003 North American blackout, which affected an estimated 50 million people in the Midwest, Northeast, and the Canadian province of Ontario. When it was created, OE merged two offices established in 2003 to focus on transmission and distribution and coordination of federal response activities within the energy sector during energy emergencies: the Office of Electric Transmission and Distribution and the Office of Energy Assurance.
OE today works to develop new technologies to improve infrastructure as well as to bolster grid resilience and energy supply restoration when interruptions occur. Among its state key priorities are to address cyber and other emerging threats such as geomagnetic disturbances and electromagnetic pulses, and mitigating the risks associated with the loss of large power transformers.
POWER has reached out to the DOE with questions about how CESER’s focus will be different from OE’s.
—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine)