According to a study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the entire U.S. power grid could be shut down in a matter of minutes through a small-scale attack on nine of the country’s 55,000 electric-transmission substations.
The danger was exposed late last year when an unknown group of people was able to successfully penetrate a San Jose, California power substation, strategically cutting fiber cables and then firing over 100 rounds of ammunition into ten transformers. The attack highlighted how even a low-tech, small-scale attack could potentially takedown the entire grid.
According to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission study, a relatively small coordinated attack in each of the nation’s three separate electric systems could cause the entire power grid to collapse. If nine out of the country’s 55,000 electric-transmission substations were taken out – in an attack similar to the San Jose attack – the U.S. could suffer a catastrophic coast-to-coast failure of its power grid.
While the federal government is keeping quiet on how real the danger is, we’ve covered numerous examples of how our nation’s public utilities have been breached in the past.
A memo prepared at FERC in late June for Former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, summed up the danger. “Destroy nine interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer and the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer.” Part of the problem comes from the fact that very few of these transformers are still manufactured in the United States, with most of them now coming in from overseas.
A 2012 report by the National Research Council, written for the Department of Homeland Security, said that the “greatest vulnerability in the event of a terrorist physical attack on the power system will likely be securing needed replacements of high-voltage transformers.” It said restoring power “could take weeks, months, or even longer.”