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US plans to secure power grid could leave Canada in the dark

The Council of Canadians has been raising concerns about electricity integration between Canada and the United States.

The Canwest News Service reports today that, “Canada’s electricity industry is concerned unilateral U.S. action to protect the North American power grid from an imminent cyber threat could upset the power supply in Canada.”

“Four cyber-security bills before Congress contain either weak or no provisions requiring U.S. authorities to consult Canada before taking action to confront an imminent cyber threat to the continental network.”

“For example, the proposed Bulk Power Protection Act in the House of Representatives recommends consultation with Canada and Mexico ‘to the extent feasible, taking into account the nature of the threat and urgency of need for action …subject to adequate protections against inappropriate disclosure of security-sensitive information.'”

“In the event of an imminent cyber threat, no single U.S. government entity currently has sufficient authority to issue emergency orders to the private-sector bulk power industry. Two of the congressional bills, one in the House of Representatives and the other in the Senate, propose assigning much of that power to the Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission (FERC), as well as giving it authority to order the power industry to upgrade operational security standards.”

THE CANADIAN ELECTRICITY ASSOCIATION IS CONCERNED “‘They’ve got to recognize that the North American grid is international, it’s interconnected, it’s integrated. Consultations, co-operation between governmental authorities on both sides of the border is going to be imperative, otherwise you won’t be able to ensure system reliability and you’ll probably undermine system reliability,’ said Francis Bradley, of the Canadian Electricity Association (CEA), representing power generators, utilities and other industry players.”

“Said Bradley: ‘There has to be very clear and explicit language that makes it critical that there is consultation and co-operation with whoever (in the U.S.) is going to be making orders that will impact the grid.'”

“The Canadian power-utilities association and the broader North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) support FERC becoming the lead authority during an emergency. But they oppose granting FERC the power to impose new and presumably tougher security standards. That job, they say, is best left to the industry. What’s more, ‘there (are) some fundamental questions here about jurisdictional sovereignty,’ said Bradley. ‘In effect we would be taking orders from FERC, FERC would be determining operating standards in Canada. That doesn’t work from a sovereignty standpoint.'”

“Bradley and other association officials are to brief congressional staff on their concerns in Washington in December. ‘We are not passing judgment on any piece of legislation,’ he said. ‘The American legislature will pass whatever legislation they want to pass, we can only provide our perspectives.'”

“Martin Rudner, one of Canada’s leading critical-infrastructure experts, believes a bilateral agreement is needed. ‘I don’t think the United States would act malevolently,’ said the distinguished research professor emeritus at Carleton University and founding director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies. ‘But in an emergency, emergency rules apply. Let’s have a bilateral agreement, so that if this happens we may have to ration electricity but we’ll ration it rationally.'”

“Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan dismissed the (Canadian electricity) association’s concern in an interview Friday. ‘Frankly, if somebody launches an attack and you haven’t made yourself technically resilient, it really doesn’t matter whether or not the (the U.S.) is consulting with Canadians or not,’ he said. ‘The system is either going to survive or go down in a hurry. What matters more is what is done in advance to prevent that from ever happening,’ he said.”

The full article is at http://www.canada.com/technology/Electricity+industry+wary+bills+thwart+cyber+attacks/2253212/story.html.