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Addressing Carbon and Cybersecurity

Protecting energy consumers on all fronts, the task of state regulators.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Travis Kavulla, a Montana state utility regulator, recently assumed the presidency of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. He recently talked with the Energy Times about major issues facing state regulators. This is the last part of a two-part series.

ENERGY TIMES: What key issues are top of mind for you in the coming year?

Travis Kavulla

KAVULLA: The Clean Power Plan is very important.  That NARUC’s members are so diverse that it’s impossible to find a unified voice for or against the regulation generally, or even relative to its particular pieces.  But we have an important role to talk about what works for states and what doesn’t. Utility commissioners need to play the curmudgeon on this issue to some degree, and resist so-called compromises where 10 different interests groups line up for a $1 each of consumers money to do something that should only cost half that.  Utility commissioners should insist on carbon dioxide reductions being treated like a cost similar to everything else in the utility portfolio of costs, one that needs to be achieved at a least-cost basis in combination with reliability concerns.  That’s a principle most commissioners would agree with. The real difficulty will be the practical implementation of the rule in every state.

ENERGY TIMES: What about cybersecurity of the grid? Is there anything that you’d like to see state regulators initiate on that front?

KAVULLA: It’s an incredibly important issue.  State regulators are trying to figure out their role, even now. Some states have tried to occupy that space with inquiries and regulation of utilities’ planning of cyber security.  Ted Koppel’s book, “Lights Out,” which everyone connected to this industry is reading, raises interesting questions. I just finished the first couple sections of his book.  Now I’m reading the “How Will We Survive” section. It is not exactly happy reading. Good for him for scaring the hell out of us like that.  He makes an interesting point, and one that challenges the easy classification of this networked industry into discreet state and federal jurisdictions.  He argues that cyber attackers’ efforts to penetrate customer devices can filter all the way up to the grid level. He’s arguing essentially that the jurisdictional boundaries that our law establishes with the bulk electric system subject to FERC and NERC and the distribution systems subject to state regulation - he’s arguing the facts don’t countenance that distinction.  The legal distinction is in fact an artificial distinction and data will flow where it flows, and that system is vulnerable.  He makes a good point about the interconnected nature of the grid. It’s incumbent upon state regulators to know what they can do and know what they can’t do.

ENERGY TIMES: So are you stockpiling food just in case the grid crashes?

KAVULLA: Montana will be just fine.  Montana is a state without a big population.  People have guns and there are plenty of wild animals out there to hunt. As Ted Koppel points out, the places to be worried about are the cities.  But no, to answer your question directly, I personally do not stockpile food.

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