Newsletter: Gas pipelines down, wind turbines up

Utility cybersecurity issues, the Colonial pipeline shutdown, and a big win for offshore wind.
By Julian Spector

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You’ve probably heard something about the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which temporarily closed the network that delivers 45 percent of the East Coast’s gasoline.

But if you want to understand how that happened and which parts of our energy infrastructure are susceptible to similar threats, spend some time with Jeff St. John’s analysis.

This passage leaps out as a flashing red warning sign:

U.S. electric utilities and grid operations must abide by mandatory cybersecurity efforts under the North American Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection standards. But pipeline networks are subject only to voluntary cybersecurity standards under the purview of the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration, the same agency responsible for airport security.
As of 2019, TSA had only six full-time employees tasked with pipeline cybersecurity, rendering it unable to ensure the security of dangerous and susceptible natural gas pipeline infrastructure,” U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a Monday tweet.

We don’t get to voluntarily screen our own bags at the airport, but voluntary cybersecurity is the norm for the nation’s critical transportation fuels.

It’s worth noting that the coming shift to electric vehicles does make transportation fuel” dependent on a functioning grid. But we already have tools for decentralized and resilient grid planning, on top of those mandatory cybersecurity protocols noted above.

While Colonial ground to a halt, U.S. offshore wind got ready to rise. 

The $2 billion Vineyard Wind project won approval from the Department of the Interior this week.

Vineyard Wind is promising 800 megawatts of renewable capacity from 84 offshore turbines, to be delivered to Massachusetts by the close of 2023.

That dwarfs the previous entries off the U.S.: Deepwater Wind’s 30-megawatt Block Island wind farm off the Rhode Island coast and Dominion Energy’s 12-megawatt Coastal Virginia pilot project.

Europe took the lead on offshore wind, to the tune of about 25 gigawatts installed. Not surprisingly, European companies have dominated in the solicitations that have handed out bids to develop off the Atlantic coast.

But President Biden wants the U.S. to catch up, calling for 30 gigawatts by 2030.

Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.