In my column of last week, "A Tale of China, EMP and Transformers," I raised the issue that the large transformers in our electric power grid may be vulnerable to an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack by China
Those transformers have never been tested to prove otherwise.
We continue not addressing this existential threat — at our peril.
As reported by Rebecca Smith in The Wall Street Journal, we at least recognize that China poses a cyberattack threat to the several hundred of China’s transformers that we have purchased and installed for our grid; and that Sandia National Laboratories is testing one of them with respect to cyberattack threats — but no public accounts of the findings yet exist.
And there has been no indication of testing against major EMP threats, that are included in the military doctrines of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.
In particular, the need to examine the EMP threat to these humongous transformers was recognized years ago — as then Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., observed in 2010, "These transformers are not manufactured in the U.S. and cost $10 million each and take 1-2 years to deliver."
Such transformers are even more costly today.
Rep. Bartlet's concern was reinforced by the Congressional EMP Commission, on numerous occasions.
Should we lose these transformers, the grid will be down for many months and the loss of electricity in our "just in time delivery" economy would lead to the death of many millions: from starvation, disease, and societal collapse.
This is truly an existential threat.
In response to this concern and in conjunction with our Lake Wylie Pilot Study, our Partner, Duke Energy — one of the nation’s largest energy companies, gave one of these large transformers (worth well over one million dollars) to Clemson University and the Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) for such threat-level testing.
SRNL, with Department of Energy funds, paid to move that transformer, by heavy truck and rail, to the Clemson University Restoration Institute (CURI) in North Charleston, South Carolina — where it has sat idle (and deteriorating) for over two years.
SRNL needs less than a million dollars from the Department of Energy (DOE) to ship it up the Savannah River to a prepared SRNL site and set it up for testing. (Moving it by highway is not practical.) For $10-30 million over the next year or so, a comprehensive set of tests could evaluate the viability of this transformer to EMP threat level electrical pulses—and also at least to begin related cyberattack tests.
The National Security Council under President Trump urged that DOE provide such finding for affordable testing to help meet objectives of the March 26, 2019 Executive Order that strongly supported efforts to prepare for EMP effects through targeted approaches that coordinate whole-of-government activities and encourage private-sector engagement.
That executive order became the law of the land —still in force — via the Dec. 20, 2019 National Defense Authorization Act — the NDAA(2020). But the needed funds were not—and still have not been — provided.
The Biden administration could put a feather in its cap by reversing this neglect of the Trump administration and providing these needed funds immediately.
The Lake Wylie Pilot Study and its potential extensions provide an immediate "bottom-up" option to protect the American public from the growing existential EMP threat—in ways consistent with and empowered by existing legislation.
Moreover, hardening the electric power grid would be quite affordable.
The York County, South Carolina study demonstrated that hardening the York County Distribution Grid to the same standards that we have employed to protect our most important military systems would cost about $100 per York County citizen.
Our partner in this effort, Duke Energy, is protecting its power plants and transmission lines that feed the distribution grid that provides electricity to the citizens, hospital, water-wastewater, emergency management operations, and other critical civil infrastructure that supports all the citizens of York County.
Duke’s associated key power plants and bulk power grid substations include such large transformers, as do the Distribution Grid substations owned and operated by Rock Hill Municipal and York County Electric Cooperative companies.
The engineers of these companies and Duke Energy — and the associated local and key state authorities are prepared to demonstrate the validity of this claim if the powers that be in Washington "provide needed funds for the common defense" by actually hardening the York County Distribution Grid and developing a plan to export it throughout South and North Carolina — and beyond.
Needed is approximately $35 million.
Meanwhile Washington seems stalled in its efforts to address this important issue.
Ryan Lovelace in the July 21 Washington Times wrote that China, Iran, Russia and other foreign adversaries have contracted with hackers, deployed sophisticated spyware technology and used social media platforms as tools to facilitate espionage.
And he discusses how the Biden administration is working to counter that threat.
Also on July 21, former Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote in The Washington Times about his concern that President Biden is woefully weak in confronting Chinese and Russian cyberattacks.
I know he also is concerned about the EMP threat — and regret that he left out that concern that is potentially more catastrophic.
I wish someone would pay attention to the more severe, even existential, threat posed by an EMP attack. Makes me wonder if we are on the path to a "Pearl Harbor with China," as my colleague Dan Gallington discussed in the June 13, 2020 Washington Times.
After a year, his question seems even more pertinent today.
As the powers that be on Capitol Hill contemplate spending trillions on infrastructure, I urge them to fund urgently needed efforts protect the electric power grid from the existential EMP threat.
That’s really important infrastructure.