Federal Action and Other Support for Energy Security
While the federal government has warned of potential physical threats to the grid for decades, it has increasingly emphasized the threat as attacks increase. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued two separate warnings about critical infrastructure threats in 2022. There are several ongoing efforts and new resources available to support states’ energy security efforts. A Congressional Research Service Report from February 2023 further details recent federal actions on the physical security of the grid, such as revisiting North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) standards and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulations, new grid security measures included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and a general look into potential focal areas for the 118th Congress.
Different sources of federal funds and other assistance are available that state legislatures can leverage. Included in the IIJA, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Preventing Outages and Enhancing the Resilience of the Electric Grid grant program (section 40101) provides formula funds to states and competitive grants to industry to strengthen and modernize grid infrastructure to withstand wildfires, extreme weather and natural disasters. While the program is not focused on human threats, investments through this program such as pole, power line and substation hardening upgrades, undergrounding, and monitoring technologies, may have the auxiliary benefit of strengthening physical security. In addition to helping the state prioritize their disbursement, state legislatures may be able to support some of the cost match for eligible subgrantees including utilities, grid operators, electricity generators and fuel suppliers.
Section 40109 provides financial assistance to develop, revise, and implement State Energy Security Plans (SESPs) as defined by section 40108 of the legislation. All states and territories have a SESP which provides important information about physical and cybersecurity threats to energy infrastructure, discusses mitigation of the risk of energy supply disruptions and are designed to improve response and recovery coordination between state agencies, tribal nations, and regional partners. The DOE released framework and guidance on how states can address the six Congressionally required elements that must be included in the plan. Among these requirements are a risk assessment and risk mitigation plan.
Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 Section 215, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation was required to work with industry and government entities to draft physical security and other security-related standards, which can then be approved and enforced by FERC. In December, the FERC ordered a review of security standards at electric transmission facilities and control centers, which were first established after a California substation attack in 2013. FERC’s findings and recommendations were released in April 2023; a summary can be found here.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has also established a Joint Federal-State Task Force on Electric Transmission to ensure close cooperation between federal and state regulators on transmission-related issues. This task force has been increasingly focused on human-caused threats to the grid in light of the many recent high-profile attacks and extremist plots.
Fusion centers are also very helpful resources to coordinate between law enforcement, state energy officials and the private sector. States already support fusion centers, which bring together law enforcement, public safety officials, and private sector partners to quickly share information, respond to threats, and coordinate efforts around energy security and public safety goals.
The U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Fusion Center Guidelines identify energy entities as “mission critical” partners in fusion center collaboration efforts. However, many fusion centers still have gaps in information sharing with state energy and emergency officials and private sector partners that own and operate energy infrastructure. In line with the federal guidelines, state legislatures can continue supporting the efforts of fusion centers and help to fully include energy sector partners so information can be efficiently shared and utilized to improve grid security.
Texas is currently considering legislation (SB 2377) that would establish a new “Homeland Security Fusion Center” to, among other things, improve intelligence sharing with private sector utilities and others operating critical infrastructure such as electric grid or pipeline facilities. Legislation pending in Minnesota (HB 41) would direct the state’s Fusion Center—which is open to private sector partners in federally-designated critical infrastructure sectors—to report annually to the legislature on its activities. These reports must include several elements, such as info on the number suspicious activity reports received and how the Fusion Center responded. If enacted, the bill may help give legislators useful data to better understand the threat landscape and determine if any gaps exist in the fusion center’s coordination with various partners.