At the American Public Power Association Public Power Expo in June in Minneapolis, the Energy Times gathered together four of the country’s leading lights in public power for a roundtable discussion on issues facing not only public power, but all electric utilities today and in the future. The discussion was sponsored by Burns & McDonnell.
Participating were Sue Kelly, American Public Power Association president and chief executive officer; Doug Hunter, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems chief executive officer and general manager; Scott Miller, City Utilities of Springfield general manager; and Decosta Jenkins, Nashville Electric Services president and chief executive officer.
Energy Times: Are utilities getting more secure from physical and cyberthreats?
Jenkins: As a utility executive the thing that keeps me awake at night in terms of security is cybersecurity. I’ve dealt with floods. I’ve dealt with ice storms. I’ve dealt with tornados and it’s hard to do that type of damage unless you’re the Good Lord. Cyber security is still something I’m trying to understand and get my arms around.
Kelly: One of the things in regards to physical security is that there are redundancies built into the system. We now have a new physical security standard that came out of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and was then approved by the North American Electric Reliability Corp. and we are in the process of implementing that standard now. We have worked very hard in the last five or six years to turn around the story from it being, “You utilities are not doing enough, we must therefore have mandatory standards.” Now we are working with our partners in government at the Department of Energy and Department of Homeland Security. We’ve formed an organization called the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council, a CEO-level industry and government group. We’ve been able to do a much better job of telling the proactive story of what we are doing. Interesting to me, we are now being held up as one of the landmark critical infrastructure sectors. Our group is being held up as a model of industry and government cooperation. That’s a different place than we were at five years ago.
Miller: The thing about government is that in the absence of information they assume the worst. Once we were able to get in front of them and deliver a collective message between all the utility sectors, they realized that it’s not as bad as they thought. We’re advancing technology and our customers want technology to be advanced. They want new things to go on out there. The negative with that is we have cyber and physical security issues and we’re going to have to adjust to that. This is one area that we’re not going to be able to let our guard down. We’re just going to have to constantly stay after it. One of the key things in the American Public Power strategic plan is quality people. We are all looking for that quality information technology employees - that young person that’s out there who can think in ways that will allow us to adapt and protect our systems.
Hunter: When we get to the cyber security level, I think it’s everybody’s problem. It’s not just the utility’s problem, these hackers are hacking everybody. They’re hacking banks, they can hack a plane now, they can hack your car. That means society is going to have to solve this problem. So I think as we make this more of a national issue – that’s what we should be seeing as utilities, we go to our mayors, our governors and say hey, you’ve got to get behind this too because it hits all aspects of society. I think we’ll eventually resolve the problem – I don’t know how that resolution will look, but it’s everybody’s problem and everybody will want to solve it.
Editor’s Note: This is the third of a weekly series of articles on public power in America. Earlier in The Energy Times: