While a terrorist attack on the grid or a Carrington Event would cause devastation, the ultimate effect would vary because of how the grid is organized, together with the extent of damage caused by the attack or event.
The grid itself is divided into three separate grids. There are the Western, Eastern and Texas Interconnections, isolated from each other.
Within the Eastern Interconnection and, to some extent the Western Interconnection, there are opportunities for isolating regions within each grid. The shades of grey provide a rough depiction of where regions of the Eastern Interconnection can be isolated from the others.
It should be noted that the regions extend into Canada.
It should also be noted that Europe and China have grids of varying degrees of sophistication and complexity.
A terrorist attack in the West could take down all of the Western Interconnection, but would not affect the Eastern or Texas Interconnections.
Since the greatest population is in the East, it should be expected that a terrorist attack would occur somewhere within the Eastern Connection. How the attack is executed would determine the extent of grid failure and whether the failure could be isolated within one or more regions.
A team, as small as six terrorists, could shut down much of the eastern grid.
A Carrington Event, however, would affect the grid differently, and much more profoundly.
It’s expected that a solar storm, equivalent to the Carrington Event, would destroy transformers in the northern half of the United States, including those supplying Canada’s largest cities.
It would also destroy transformers in Europe, and probably China and Japan. It would be, essentially, a worldwide event.
It will probably be possible to isolate the northern portions of the failed grid from the southern areas where transformers were not affected. This assumes that power generation equipment wasn’t harmed by the sudden collapse of the grid.
Isolating and restoring power to the southern portions of the United States might take a few weeks, while the northern cities would remain without power for a year or more.
Whether the government could prevent social collapse, including in the southern states, is problematic. How, for example, would the government either support, with food and water, 200 million people living in northern cities, or provide for their peaceful movement to southern states.
Some articles, such as in the Wall Street Journal, make comments about how transformers could be built overseas for the United States, but a Carrington Event would destroy the grids in Europe and Asia, so their factories would be building transformers for their use, and not for the United States.
The United States would have to rely on its resources, of which there are very few, perhaps four of five factories that could build large, extra high voltage power transformers.
Some say people should install generators, but natural gas for powering those generators won’t be available, since natural gas pipelines often rely on electricity to power compressors. Gasoline and diesel fuel also will be unavailable.
While a terrorist attack could be devastating, and might result in the destruction of the United States, a Carrington Event, or EMP from a high level nuclear explosion, would be more likely to end the United States as we know it.
H.R. 2417, 113th Congress, provides the process for identifying how to protect the grid from the effects of terrorist attack, as well as a Carrington Event or EMP.
A summary of H.R. 2417 states:
“Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act or SHIELD Act – Amends the Federal Power Act to authorize the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), with or without notice, hearing, or report, to order emergency measures to protect the reliability of either the bulk-power system or the defense critical electric infrastructure whenever the President issues a written directive or determination identifying an imminent grid security threat.”
“Directs FERC also to order the ERO to submit reliability standards to: (1) protect the bulk-power system from a reasonably foreseeable geomagnetic storm event or electromagnetic pulse event (EMP); and (2) require entities that own or operate large transformers to ensure their adequate availability to restore promptly the reliable operation of the bulk-power system in the event of destruction or disability as a result of attack or a geomagnetic storm or EMP.”
H.R.2417 should be non-partisan, and Congress should act. Too much is at stake. A Carrington Event can happen at any time during any 11 year sun spot cycle. The outcome of such an event is well understood.
FERC issued new rules this past Friday, February 7, requiring utilizes to provide physical protection for “locations which, if badly damaged, could produce cascading blackouts or other widespread problems.”
FERC also asked the North American Electric Reliability Corp. to identify threats and establish physical protection standards.
These initiatives by FERC are a beginning, but lack some of the requirements of H.R. 2417, such as requiring spare EHV transformers, and equally important, standards that would protect the grid from a Carrington Event or EMP.
H.R. 2417 is required to ensure the safety of the grid.
Protecting the 300 or so extra high voltage transformers, or having spares readily available, could make the difference between survival and annihilation.
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