New FERC office to provide leadership in grid security

In initial comments for FERC’s open commission meeting Sept. 20, Chairman Jon Wellinghoff announced FERC’s newly created Office of Energy Infrastructure Security (OEIS) to help identify solutions to potential cyber and security threats to U.S. bulk power system reliability.

“The key benefit of a stand-alone office focused on energy infrastructure security is that it leverages the existing resources of the commission with the resources of other government agencies and the private industry in a coordinated and focused manner,” Wellinghoff said during the meeting. “I want to emphasize, however, that OEIS will work complementary to and not be a replacement of FERC’s existing regulatory processes for reliability. OEIS is intended to enhance their ability to ensure reliability of the bulk power system.”

He said OEIS will focus on identifying ways to use FERC’s current authority to communicate and mitigate potential threats from a cyber or electromagnetic attack.

Wellinghoff also announced during the meeting that Office of Electric Reliability (OER) Director Joseph McClelland will now be the director of OEIS, and Ted Franks will serve as acting director of OER.

“The creation of the Office of Energy Infrastructure Security reflects the importance FERC places on ensuring the security of our nation’s bulk power system,” Gerry Cauley, President and CEO of NERC, said in a statement. “NERC looks forward to coordinating our critical infrastructure program with this new office. NERC has worked with Joe McClelland on issues related to reliability for many years, and we look forward to continuing this productive relationship.”

McClelland gave testimony Sept. 12 at a Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies about threats to the U.S. power infrastructure from electromagnetic pulses caused by specialized weapons or solar storms. In his testimony, McClelland expressed concern that FERC’s authority to protect the U.S. grid is limited and its open process for establishing reliability standards may be too slow to respond to any extraordinary threats to the system.