Federal Agencies to|Update Power Grid

     WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama has issued a memorandum to government agencies and heads of executive departments highlighting the need to modernize and expand the U.S. power grid, in part, to help thwart cyber-security threats.
     The memorandum comes just weeks after reports surfaced that hackers working with the Iranian government launched electronic infiltration and surveillance cyber assaults against U.S. energy grid control networks, according to the Wall Street Journal.
     “The latest campaign, which the U.S. believes has direct backing from the Iranian government, has focused on the control systems that run oil and gas companies and, more recently, power companies,” according to the report.
     In April, to protect the energy grid, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) proposed a new regulation aimed at preventing cyber security issues from crippling the nation’s bulk electric system.
     The regulation would include 12 new cyber security controls that deal with protecting information, training personnel, and providing guidance on incident reports, response planning, recovery plans and vulnerability assessments.
     And, in May, the FERC, in a new regulation, directed electrical grid regulators to address the impact of solar flares on electrical power grid operation.
     Upgrading the power grid also should decrease power outages and result in a quicker integration of renewable sources of electricity into the grid, accommodate the growing number of electric vehicles on the road and reduce the need for new power plants, according to a White House press release.
     “By diversifying power sources and reducing congestion, a modernized grid will also create cost savings for consumers and spur economic growth,” Obama said in his memorandum.
     Modernizing and expanding the U.S. power grid means making improvements in how transmission lines are placed (sited), permitted and reviewed, Obama wrote. To assist in the process, the Obama administration has created the Rapid Response Team for Transmission (RRTT), which is aimed at speeding up infrastructure permitting, review and consultation, according to the memorandum.
     The RRTT consists of nine federal agencies charged with working together to help the expansion and modernization process run quickly and efficiently, with projects crossing multiple governmental jurisdictions over hundreds of miles, requiring collaboration among federal, state, local and tribal governments, Obama said in his memorandum.
     Part of the group’s task is to identify “energy corridors,” or “right-of-way” corridors under the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
     The RRTT’s initial focus, according to the memorandum, are seven pilot project lines stretching across the “western states” including Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah, as well as the non-western states of Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
     Obama says he wants a plan outlining the improved transmission siting, permitting and review process by Sept. 30, and a plan for producing the western corridor study and regional corridor assessment by July 12, with its accompanying implementation plan by Nov. 12, 2014.

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