By Karen Schaufeld
A gas well explosion in Pennsylvania continues to raise concern for the area, and it was a reminder that the way America produces and distributes energy is not only costly, but also exposes us to dangerous situations. In fact, relying on an electrical generation and distribution infrastructure that is more than 100 years old is so dangerous that a cohort of retired military leaders says it is a “national security imperative” to change the way America approaches the production and distribution of energy.
I recently read “National Security and Assured U.S. Electrical Power,” a report by the CNA Military Advisory Board, which outlines ways we can move away from the “vulnerabilities inherent in today’s grid” to a safer, more distributed infrastructure. The 36-page report calls for “a new approach to our nation’s power paradigm.”
Why? “Cities and regions get their power primarily from large clustered electric power producers,” and “electricity is typically transmitted over long distances, across vulnerable, high-voltage infrastructure.” That puts every step of the process at risk from attack, weather or other threats that could create sustained power outages and, frankly, cripple parts of our nation.
While we don’t know what caused the explosion in Salem Township, PA, we do know that it is a great example of how our traditional energy system works. The well and gas line involved are owned and operated by Texas Eastern Transmission and are connected to the grid of natural gas pipelines that crisscross the nation.
In addition to the potential for natural disasters, such as tornado or other extreme weather, the threat of targeted attacks is real and growing. From 2011 to 2014, according to the report, there were 362 targeted attacks that caused outages or other power disruptions. The Board calls this a distressing trend, which “requires us to consider the potential for even more serious assaults, with strategic consequences.”
Luckily, we are at a “unique point in history,” because advancing technologies and proven, innovative sources will allow us to produce electrical power closer to the consumer thereby reducing our reliance on the traditional grid.
One way we can do that is through distributed renewable energy sources, such as solar. By producing energy closer to consumers and breaking up the traditional grid, it will be much harder for adversaries and natural disasters to bring entire regions of our country down with a single, targeted attack.
“The new production paradigm will be driven by technological advances, demand for increased flexibility, more secure and lower-cost power, and a growing public demand for cleaner energy sources,” according to the report.
Assuring that we have reliable, accessible, sustainable, and affordable electric power is a national security imperative.