Yesterday’s eclipse captured major attention across America as those in its direct pathway saw nighttime in the middle of a hot summer’s day. It was the first time in nearly a century for an eclipse over the entire nation. There is an even rarer and most unpleasant solar event that last occurred in 1859, almost happened again in 2012, and will certainly happen again in the future—possibly in the near future. We are unprepared and courting a disaster when it does occur.
The NASA map below shows the pathway for viewing the total eclipse across America. I was privileged to watch it only a few miles from our farm in South Carolina, where coverage was only 99.6 percent total. This was a pleasant time with family and friends to watch a once in a lifetime event, at least for me. Some traveled from far away to experience what we could, near where I grew up and learned life’s most important lessons more years ago than I wish to admit.
This celebration of this rare solar event reminds me of another major solar event that occurs even more rarely — and which will have catastrophic consequences unless we prepare to deal with it.
Click here for my past messages that deal with these potentially lethal “solar storms” that are regularly produced by coronal mass emissions (CMEs) of radiation particles that, when interacting with the Earth’s geomagnetic field, can cause a Geomagnetic Disturbance (GMD) with major, even societally threatening, consequences for the nation’s electric power grid.
Today’s message draws much from my last Valentine’s Day message, which in turn drew from recent Discovery and Science Channel’s presentations, titled “The Dark Side of the Sun.” Click here for a brief advance descriptive video discussing an existential threat caused by a major CME, or solar storm. After discussing the threat, the presentation suggested that a then-pending Solar Probe Plus mission could provide warning of a GMD that could cause major damage to our electric power grid, leading to a major blackout and a disastrous loss of electricity for many months — and somehow enable the emergency responder community to take preventative action in time to avoid the potential associated existential threat.
Such a “natural” electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat contains a low frequency, long wavelength, low amplitude electromagnetic pulse, similar to the low frequency component of “manmade” EMP threats from high altitude nuclear explosions. The manmade EMP threat is more deadly because its additional high frequency component is an additional threat, especially to modern electronics. And it should be taken very seriously, especially now as North Korea is daily threatening to attack America and our overseas troops friends and allies. And we should not forget that Iran poses the same threat.
But Natural EMP, which couples into long lines that propagate its energy to critical substations where major damage may result in the loss of critical, hard to replace infrastructure, like the Ultra High Voltage Transformers that are not built in the United States, must be tailor “handmade” for each substation — usually taking months — and shipped from South Korea and Germany by transportation systems that may have been rendered useless by the EMP.
Click here for one of my earliest discussions (December 30, 2012) of these effects, which included links to pertinent, well researched Smithsonian and National Geographic articles that attested to the reality of the threat. And click here for my July 16, 2013 discussion of further details of this threat, prompted by a 2-page spread in the preceding Sunday’s Business Section of the Washington Post. And as noted in the “Dark Side of the Sun” presentations, President Obama established programs to address this threat. Click here for the October 13, 2016 White House press release.
Nevertheless, in spite of such a publicly well-established understanding of the reality of this threat, the February 10, 2017 New York Times ridiculed in advance the Discovery and Science Channel presentations (click here) as hyping such an event as just another apocalyptic presentation intended to scare the public. Actually, the presentation described quite well a natural event that happened almost 160 years ago (the 1859 Carrington Event) — and will again.
As I have often written, this all too real potential disaster is a question of “When,” not “Whether,” it will assuredly occur. Such an event is expected every 150 or so years, so we are due. In June 2012, we barely missed a repeat performance, when a major solar emission passed through the Earth’s orbit about a week after the Earth’s passage. Click here for more on the importance of this near miss. An estimate is that there is a 12-percent likelihood per decade of a direct hit.
In 1859 — before the Civil War, the Carrington event caused major damage to the new Telegraph system, including its brand new undersea telegraph cable. But there was no dependence on electricity — and survival of America’s much smaller population was assured by primarily locally provided food and water from its agrarian society.
In today’s economy essentially everyone’s viability depends on electricity and “just-in-time” delivered goods — often from afar. Americans would die in droves from starvation, disease and societal collapse.
So given the reality described above, one has to wonder if anyone can rely on anything published by the “Gray Lady” as being factually correct anymore! Their author in this case certainly didn’t do his homework — and just last February!
If his purpose was just to be critical, he could have complimented NASA’s Solar Probe Plus project with faint praise for its scientific merits and then emphasized that the advertised additional warning time promised by that project will not by itself enable the needed protection against the effects of such a cataclysmic event. The grid still needs to be protected against the effects — and if the grid is protected, warning requirements would be reduced significantly, if not eliminated.
So, such additional warning (perhaps tens of hours instead of less than an hour today) could be helpful — but would not be sufficient actually to protect the American people. We can and should be doing much more than the pertinent scientific research that was the focus of this presentation, whatever its merits.
Moreover, we need to accomplish some more important things as a top national priority — and we are not doing so.
For example, consider that the Solar CME threat is not being competently addressed by those who are charged by law to do so. Moreover, even if the Solar CME threat were competently dealt with, that effort will not provide protection against the higher amplitude, more complex manmade electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat.
And there is no Presidential mandate that the EMP threat should be comprehensively addressed — President Trump, “Hello???”
Perhaps most important, the Federal Energy Reliability Commission (FERC) and its partner the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) for years have failed to address competently these important issues.
FERC reviews and approves standards determining U.S. electric grid reliability based primarily on inputs from NERC, a non-profit former trade association still effectively controlled by electric utility interests. NERC, the officially designated “Electric Reliability Organization,” seems persistently to seek to minimize both electric utility compliance burdens and their liability for grid outages.
FERC has no authority to directly edit NERC products, and consistently approves weak and often long-delayed grid security standards proposed by NERC. Unless Congress changes the law, NERC has exclusive rights to craft electric reliability standards. FERC commissioners often have had revolving door relationships with state public utility commissions, utilities and their law firms, and lobbying groups. Not a recipe for competent independent regulations.
Why isn’t the New York Times (and other news organizations) paying attention to this “self-licking ice cream cone” arrangement that undermines the safety and security of the American people — rather than ridiculing what appears to be the sound scientific effort highlighted by the Dark Side of the Sun productions on the Discovery and Science Channels?
An example of how the press could be helpful was provided by the consequences of an April 2013 sophisticated rifle attack that took out 17 transformers at the Metcalf, California substation, nearly causing a cascading blackout. Electric utilities and complicit law enforcement prevented the public from learning details of the attack. Twenty-three days after the attack, a key NERC committee recommended elimination of its physical security standard then under development. Senior FERC officials witnessed the NERC committee vote to abandon an obviously-needed standard, but did not act to reverse NERC’s action.
Jon Wellinghoff, then chairman of FERC, resigned and subsequently disclosed the gravity of the Metcalf attack to the press. And of course the FERC-NERC world objected loudly of the fact that he informed an unwitting public of such life threatening dangers.
Click here for my February 6, 2014 discussion of solar storms and the Metcalf attack with a link to the related Wall Street Journal story. Wellinghoff disclosed that a FERC engineering study had concluded that an attack on as few as nine transformer substations could black out the continental United States for up to 18 months.
So . . . how would you get along without electricity for 18-months?
Only after this public disclosure and attention from Congress did FERC order NERC to restart and expedite a standards project for physical security — proving that media attention to these critical issues can have significant helpful consequences.
A well informed , responsive and responsible press (Too much to hope for?) could be further helpful by considering other instances of FERC actions inconsistent with the public interest, which include:
- A FERC-approved standard for physical security that does not cover any generation facilities, even when loss of a single facility can cause cascading outage, and when loss of several can black out large regions;
- The fact that FERC allowed NERC to exempt master control rooms managing power for over 100 million Americans from application of a physical security standard;
- FERC-approved cybersecurity standards that specifically exempt business systems at utilities penetrated by foreign malware—these business systems are connected through porous “firewalls” to computers that directly control the electric grid;
- FERC has allowed communications between grid control rooms and substations to be completely unencrypted and therefore susceptible to cyberattack;
- FERC has allowed NERC to exempt thousands of falsely-assessed “low impact” grid substations from cybersecurity standards—despite demonstration in Ukraine that a cyberattack on such substations can cause major grid outage;
Most notably, on January 19, 2017 — the day before Donald Trump was sworn in as the nation’s 45th President, FERC approved a NERC standard for solar storms based on a model discredited by a national laboratory; a standard with so many absurd technical loopholes that not a single transformer in North America would need be outfitted with hardware-based protection.
As former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said on Fox News that day, this was “a very, very dangerous decision . . . on how we protect ourselves from electromagnetic pulse. It is being designed as stupidly and as destructively as possible . . . If I were [President Trump] it’s one of the things I would literally repeal late tomorrow . . .”
Amen to that. Regrettably, President Trump did not take Newt’s advice. Moreover, following this bad decision a FERC Commissioner retired leaving a stalemated situation until 2 new Commissioners were appointed. At least 3 are required for FERC to function.
That condition was recently rectified. Click here for the new FERC, now chaired by a Trump appointee. So, now a Trump appointee should assure that President Trump pays attention to this urgently important deficiency.
If the new FERC is better than the past, especially if President Trump selects an additional two commissioners who are competent, then there would be hope for future FERC deliberations.
In my view, the FERC-NERC operation needs a major overhaul if the American people are to be protected from severe, indeed existential, threats to the electric power grid.
Stay tuned to see if the press pays any attention to these urgently critical matters — and hope that they receive at least the attention given to yesterday’s solar eclipse.
The much “darker” threats deserve more attention, especially those posed by the unresponsive bureaucracy that is not protecting the American people.
Then there is the more stressful “manmade” EMP threat. Stay tuned . . .
What can you do?
Join us in praying for our nation, and for a rebirth of the freedom sought, achieved and passed to us by those who came before us.
Help us to spread our message to the grass roots and to encourage all “powers that be” to provide for the common defense as they are sworn to do.
Begin by passing this message to your friends and suggest they visit our webpage www.highfrontier.org for more information. Also, please encourage your sphere of influence to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter.
Encourage them to review our past email messages, posted on www.highfrontier.org, to learn about many details related to the existential manmade and natural EMP threats and how we can protect America against them.
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