On May 1, 2020, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order addressing national security threats facing the US bulk-power system, in particular by restricting use of certain imported equipment essential to the power grid. The Executive Order aims to protect the grid against foreign adversaries that seek to exploit weaknesses in the bulk-power system. The scope and impact of the Executive Order on the development, construction, design, planning, modernization and transfer of large power generation facilities, utilities, and the transmission system should become clearer once the Department of Energy begins its rulemaking process to implement the order. Beyond that, the Executive Order is significant not just as a piece of the puzzle in protecting the power grid from cyber risks, but as part of the larger challenge of balancing national security, technology improvements, and trade policy as they impact the reliability and efficiency of the nation’s power supply.
The Executive Order does not address or alter the statutory role of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in setting and enforcing reliability and efficiency criteria to deal with potential cybersecurity threats to the bulk-power system. In April, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, FERC delayed implementation of some of the Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) cybersecurity standards to which grid operators, utilities, transmission companies, and utility-scale independent power generators are already subject. This recent action by the Trump Administration closely tracks its May 15, 2019 executive order, which was designed to protect the nation’s information and communications technology and services supply chain from foreign threats.
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