Advertisement
  1. Business

Utilities face ongoing challenges to secure the grid

The North American Electric Reliability Corp., a nonprofit tasked with enforcing grid protection compliance, fined an unnamed utility $10 million — its largest ever penalty — in late January.
Published Feb. 15

Nearly a year after the federal government disclosed that Russian hackers have targeted the U.S.'s critical infrastructure since 2016, utilities are still struggling to keep up on security.

The North American Electric Reliability Corp., a nonprofit tasked with enforcing grid protection compliance, proposed a $10 million fine — its largest ever penalty — for an unnamed utility in late January. The fine was part of a settlement over 127 counts of failing to protect critical infrastructure from physical attacks and cyberattacks, and will need to be finalized by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission.

The violations ranged from mild to serious and took place between 2015 and 2018.

The agency did not name the utility. But the Wall Street Journal and the trade publication Energywire have reported it was Duke Energy Co., the parent company Duke Energy Florida, which serves Pinellas County and other parts of Florida.

In a statement Wednesday, North Carolina-based Duke Energy said its company policy is "not to confirm, deny or comment on any enforcement filings regarding any company."

"Duke Energy makes cyber security a top priority and is strongly committed to comprehensive, multi-layered cyber security measures designed to protect power plants and the electric grid," the company said in a statement, noting that it works closely with law enforcement agencies and industry organizations.

Earl Shockley, a utilities consultant who previously worked for North American Electric Reliability Corp., said what is most concerning to him is the precedent the fine sets for the rest of the industry.

"The most important thing is that we've got a leader in our energy sector who didn't meet the mark," he said.

Utilities, Shockley said, face several ongoing challenges when it comes to securing the grid. For one, aging infrastructure often must be updated to be properly secured, which can be expensive and time-intensive. And while hiring qualified people with the know-how to properly secure the grid might not be a significant issue for well-funded large utilities, smaller utilities are at somewhat of a disadvantage trying to compete from the same talent pool.

"The smaller ones are the ones really hurting," Shockley said.

And if utilities don't start to do better, especially large ones, it may open the door for an agency such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to step in and manage security.

"They're putting the whole industry at risk of losing control over who's managing the cyber systems," Shockley said. "If the Department of Homeland Security takes over, it's going to be a lot more stringent."

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. A huge number of homes owned by Baby Boomers will sell in the next 20 years. How will the trend affect the Florida housing market? CAMERON GILLIE  |  NAPLES DAILY NEWS
    The enormous generation born between 1946 and 1964 owns about 40 percent of the homes across the country.
  2. Service dog Eleanor Rigby unexpectedly gave birth to eight puppies at Tampa International Airport as her human family was waiting near gate F81 to board a flight to Philadelphia in May 2018. The airport is getting ready to add pet-relief areas at its airsides for service dogs. (EMILY NIPPS | Tampa International Airport) Tampa International Airport
    Work on the new amenities is expected to be completed by next July.
  3. Developers of a proposed apartment complex near St. Petersburg's Mirror Lake area want to tear down this bungalow and replace it with a ramp to the parking garage. Susan Taylor Martin
    The only access would be via a narrow court lined with vintage houses.
  4. Cooling canals, with Turkey Point nuclear power plant in the background. Miami Herald
    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday announced that it had signed off on Florida Power and Light’s latest application for a 20-year extension.
  5. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Wages rose a solid 3.1% in November compared with a year earlier.
  6. Noah Shaffer of Confidant Asset Management says the restaurant sector in the Tampa Bay area has done well in 2019 and to expect more openings in the coming months. Chick-fil-A Brandon South opened earlier this year.
    So far, the economy appears robust enough to support further expansion, says a local industry professional.
  7. A new retail center and health club are proposed for the Epperson neighborhood in Wesley Chapel, home of the Crystal Lagoon. Preliminary plans show the fitness club near the most eastern edge of the lagoon. SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    Ryan Companies proposes grocery, retail stores and health club at neighborhood’s entrance
  8. Jamie Harden of Creative Sign Designs and Maryann Ferenc of Mise en Place discuss priorities for the Tampa Bay Chamber for the coming year. Harden is the outgoing chairman of the chamber. Ferenc is the incoming chairwoman. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
    Leadership of the organization, formerly the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, also says it could have handled its recent name change better.
  9. The snow park in Pasco County will be known Snowcat Ridge Alpine Snow Park and is scheduled to open in November 2020. Snowcat Ridge Alpine Snow Park
    The park in rural east Pasco anticipates opening in November 2020.
  10. Renderings of the proposed Red Apple Group project show a 20-story hotel on the west side of the block, and a building of about six stories facing Central with parking, shops and offices. The 45-story condo tower rises at an angle on the east side of the block. Courtesy of Arquitectonica
    The $300 million project by Red Apple Group would include a hotel and badly needed parking space.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement