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Last week’s passage of the Enhancing State Energy Security Planning and Emergency Preparedness Act and the Enhancing Grid Security through Public-Private Partnerships Act coming out of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is welcome news for  Colorado U.S Senator Michael Bennet and all those concerned about the security of the U.S. energy grid.

If passed finally and adopted, the pair of bills could help protect the country’s energy grid from cyberattacks. Bennet says he expects the two bills to be included in the massive and bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“Following the recent dangerous cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline, it’s clear that increasing the resilience of our electric grid is more important than ever,” said Bennet. “We must protect the critical infrastructure that serves as the backbone of our economy – from hospitals and banks to gas stations and water treatment facilities — and this pair of bills will provide the technical assistance needed to safeguard our communities from future crippling attacks. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this bipartisan legislation across the finish line.”

The bills passed out of Committee as a part of the Energy Infrastructure Act, which is expected to be incorporated into the large, Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework.

The Enhancing State Energy Security Planning and Emergency Preparedness Act

Image courtesy of International Security Journal

The Enhancing State Energy Security Planning and Emergency Preparedness Act authorizes the Department of Energy (DOE) to provide financial assistance to states to develop or revise a State Energy Security Plan. It also outlines the contents of a State Security Plan, including the need for coordination and joint exercises with industry and federal stakeholders. It authorizes DOE $90 million annually for Fiscal Years 2022 – 2026 to offer financial and technical assistance to states as they develop and update their plans.

State Energy Security Plans would assess an individual state’s existing circumstances and propose methods to strengthen the ability of a state to:

  • Secure the energy infrastructure of the State against all physical and cybersecurity threats
  • Mitigate the risk of energy supply disruptions to the state and enhance response to, and recovery from energy disruptions
  • Ensure the state has a reliable, secure, and resilient energy infrastructure.

The Enhancing Grid Security through Public-Private Partnerships Act

This act would authorize the Department of Energy (DOE) to provide physical and cybersecurity assistance to electric utilities where the Secretary has substantial concerns and the area’s electric utilities have fewer available resources due to size or region. It would require the submission of a report addressing physical and cybersecurity vulnerabilities in electricity distribution systems. Support from DOE would include providing tools for self-assessment, assisting with threat assessment and training, and increasing the sharing of best practices and data collection.

Bennet has a legislative background in support for cybersecurity. He led the Energy Jobs for Our Heroes Act in 2018 with former U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) to help veterans prepare for careers in cybersecurity and clean energy. The amendment was signed into law as a part of the energy and water spending bill.

As a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Bennet secured a bipartisan cyber and grid security bill in the 2018 Senate Farm Bill to ensure cybersecurity and grid improvement projects are eligible for USDA Rural Utility Service loans. The energy grid obviously crosses vast swaths of the rural U.S.

Assessment resources have shown that the nation’s energy grid is vulnerable to cyberattacks. According to the International Security Journal the cyber resilience of organizations operating in the energy, finance, health, telecommunications, transport, and water industries, located in the world’s five largest economies (UK, U.S., Germany, France, and Japan) is a concern. Only 36 percent of the 370 companies surveyed had achieved a high level of cyber resilience.

Featured image: Smart Energy Grids will be needed for the future. Image courtesy of National Energy Technology Laboratory.