Power threat

The nation's power grid remains far too vulnerable 10 years after the blackout of Aug. 14, 2003 that stopped the flow of electricity to 50 million people from Ohio to New England, lasting two days in some places. That widespread outage was traced to the failure of a transmission line, causing cascading failures that were compounded by human errors.

Lessons learned from that blackout led to changes to reduce the chances of power outages spreading quickly from one system to another. Use of improved computer technology provides faster reactions to a problem and reduce the chance of human mistakes.

But the expanded use of computer technology, with signals to the power grid flowing across the Internet, has created a new vulnerability, one that could result in outages on a scale and in a manner never see before domestically - as the result of a cyber attack.

Power companies, along with other large businesses, have opposed attempts in Congress to boost the protection of the nation's utilities, infrastructure and financial markets from attacks by hackers. Fears of having to share software information to make such improvements work, and of government interference, have fueled corporate opposition and stalled cyber security legislation. Congress needs to keep trying.

Connecticut residents, certainly, are well aware of the havoc that increasingly volatile weather can wreak on electric grids. In recent years freak snowstorms and tropical weather systems have caused massive and prolonged outages across the state. Connecticut has taken some important steps in the right direction -mandating better emergency preparations for power restoration by utilities; trimming programs to reduce tree damage to power lines; and a "microgrid" pilot program to test new systems that can run on their own in urban centers during a power failure.

Improving grid resiliency is expensive and costs will pass to consumers, but so too are large-scale blackouts. The economic impact of having no electricity in some areas for weeks after Superstorm Sandy last October is estimated at $52 billion.

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