Idaho National Laboratory is spearheading an effort to develop a national plan to safeguard America’s wind energy grid.

INL is working with the U.S. Department of Energy, Sandia National Laboratories, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., and the wind industry on the wind cybersecurity roadmap. The labs are examining the wind industry’s current posture working with the industry to identify and research security and technology gaps.

“We’re not pursing cybersecurity because we’re fearful the wind industry isn’t doing their job,” said Jake Gentle, INL’s wind program manager. “We’re pursuing cybersecurity because as a nation we are always under attack. That is not unknown.”

According to the DOE’s 2018 Wind Technologies Market Report, which was released last month, another 7,588 megawatts of new wind power was added in the U.S. in 2018 and $11 billion invested, bringing the country’s wind power capacity to 96,433 megawatts. This makes wind the third-fastest growing power source in the U.S., after solar and natural gas.

The fact that wind is a growing share of America’s electricity, Gentle said, “means nation-states or others might be seeing that as a target. If we are more reliant on a certain generation type, that might be where they targeted.” Gentle said DOE and the wind industry are “really looking to get ahead of the curve, if you will.”

Work on the project started earlier this year.

“It’s a new effort really being driven DOE and … the administration’s emphasis on security at large but (particularly) cybersecurity,” Gentle said. “This isn’t the only kind of initiative or roadmap that INL is supporting, there are other DOE (initiatives) and other agencies within the U.S. government we’re supporting, but this is kind of a new one for INL and DOE.”

According to a July news release from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the roadmap “will outline the challenges and opportunities for the nation’s growing wind power industry, especially with the rising use of digital technologies on the grid.”

“Wind power already represents a significant source of energy production across the nation, with some states exceeding 25 percent of their generation from wind,” said Jonathan White, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s manager of Cyber-Physical Energy Security Systems. “This dramatic growth in wind energy installations requires our due diligence to ensure these assets are secure from malicious activities.”

At a wind cybersecurity workshop the National Renewable Energy Laboratory put on in July, participants discussed cybersecurity, existing gaps and opportunities to improve as it relates to supply chain oversight, sensor integrity, cybersecurity strategy, and automated response and security risk management. Proposed improvements included improving more frequent monitoring of sensor data, improving verification of standards across different sectors and incentivizing organizational cybersecurity.

There have been publicly reported instances of Russian hackers breaking into American power systems numerous times over the past few years. Gentle said the U.S. power grid is robust overall from a national security perspective, and that even if a wind turbine were to be taken over by a hostile actor, it likely wouldn’t lead to a series of cascading failures throughout the power grid. However, Gentle said DOE wants to make sure it is paying attention to securing wind power as its importance grows.

“As any industry grows, your reliance on it increases as well,” he said.

Gentle said he expects the initial version of the final report to be done before the end of the month, after which it will go to DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office for review. After that, various other players will be involved in revising it before a publicly releasable version is available.

“We anticipate that INL will be heavily involved in those efforts,” he said.

Wind in Idaho

Texas is by far the leader in wind generation according to DOE’s latest market report, with 24,895 megawatts or a little more than a quarter of the nation’s total. Iowa, Oklahoma, California and Kansas round out the top five. Idaho is 20th in the nation in terms of megawatts, at 973. However, given Idaho’s size, this represents almost 15 percent of all power generated in-state, making Idaho 12th in the nation in terms of the amount of power generated by wind. By comparison, only 6.5 percent of America’s total electricity comes from wind.

Almost 11 percent of in-state power sales in Idaho are wind, the 15th-most in the nation. According to DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, hydroelectric power makes up by far the greatest share of Idaho’s electric grid at 60 percent, followed by natural gas at 18 percent and wind at 15 percent. Much of Idaho’s wind power is generated in Bonneville County, at four wind farms east of Idaho Falls. Other wind farms are located in Power and Cassia counties, western Twin Falls county and in Elmore County between Mountain Home and Glenns Ferry.

Idaho Power, which provides electricity to much of eastern Oregon and southern Idaho as far east as the Blackfoot area, has 728 megawatts of wind capacity in its system, said company spokesman Brad Bowlin. About 11 percent of the utility’s total electric generation came from wind in 2018.

One megawatt can typically power about 767 average-sized homes, Bowlin said, so “if you could somehow have all of those wind turbines working at full capacity at the same time, you could theoretically power more than 558,000 homes.” This doesn’t happen though, Bowlin said, since wind is intermittent and needs to be supplemented by sources such as hydroelectric or gas that can respond quickly to changes in wind output.

Bowlin said wind contributes less during peak periods. For example, at 5:05 p.m. on Sept. 4, the total system demand topped out at 3,016 megawatts and wind represented 139 megawatts, or less than 4 percent of that. Bowlin said no new wind generation has been added to Idaho Power’s system since 2017, when 50 megawatts came online, and no new utility-scale wind is under contract or scheduled to come online in the next year or two.

“The future of additional wind in our region is unclear,” he said. “We evaluated adding new wind while developing our long-range plan that we submitted to the (Idaho Public Utilities Commission) in June. While our preferred resource portfolio did not include new wind projects, our analysis did show that significantly higher carbon costs could make additional large-scale wind projects a cost-effective option down the road.

“Keep in mind, however, that federal law does require us to purchase wind from any qualifying facility regardless of need,” he continued, referring to a requirement in the federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act that utilities have to buy power from wind and other renewable sources when it’s available as long as it doesn’t cost more than it would cost the utility to generate it. “So if a developer brings a project to us, we would be obligated to negotiate a contract and purchase the energy they produce.”

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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