FERC’s LaFleur reluctant to publicly discuss substation attack

Acting FERC Chairman Cheryl A. LaFleur told a congressional panel Dec. 5 that she is reluctant to publicly reveal many specifics about an April attack on  a transmission substation in California for fear that it might yield “copycat” attacks.

LaFleur would be willing, however, to have FERC provide a private briefing for lawmakers. LaFleur was responding to questions from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) during a hearing before the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

Waxman had pointed to the April firearms attack on a Pacific Gas & Electric substation as evidence of the growing threat to the grid from both cyber and physical attacks. “The FBI and others are investigating this attack,” which involved “military-style” weapons and affected the power flow in California, Waxman said.

LaFleur said she shares the FBI’s concern about disclosure. “There is a potential about copycat attacks if too much is disclosed,” LaFleur said.

LaFleur appeared at the hearing after being appointed acting chairman 10 days earlier with the departure of Jon Wellinghoff. She has been a commissioner for more than three years.

Waxman wants the committee to work together to ensure that FERC “has the authority it needs to protect the grid from physical and cyber attacks.”

The California Democrat said FERC needs additional authority to better protect the electric grid.

FERC has been working with industry, the FBI and Homeland Security on issues like tampering, security and sabotage, LaFleur said.

The Subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.). The hearing concerned evaluating FERC’s role in a changing energy landscape.

During the hearing, the acting FERC chair said the transmission system is making progress on both emerging threats like cyber security and more mundane issues like tree trimming.

During the hearing, Rep. Jerry McNerney (R-Calif.) said growth of smart grid technology has both positive and negative impacts. It can provide lots of additional information to utilities but can, at the same time, can open the system to cyber attacks, McNerney said.

The hearing touched on everything from how costs are allocated for transmission projects planned to move mostly renewable energy to FERC’s role in licensing the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.