The U.S. could suffer a coast-to-coast blackout if saboteurs knocked out just nine of the country’s 55,000 electric-transmission substations on a scorching summer day, according to a previously unreported federal analysis.
The study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concluded that coordinated attacks in each of the nation’s three separate electric systems could cause the entire power network to collapse, people familiar with the research said.
A small number of the country’s substations play an outsize role in keeping power flowing across large regions. The FERC analysis indicates that knocking out nine of those key substations could plunge the country into darkness for weeks, if not months.
“This would be an event of unprecedented proportions,” said Ross Baldick, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.
No federal rules require utilities to protect vital substations except those at nuclear power plants. Regulators recently said they would consider imposing security standards. …
The Wall Street Journal isn’t publishing the list of 30 critical substations studied by FERC. The commission declined to discuss the analysis or to release its contents.
Some federal officials said the conclusions might overstate the grid’s vulnerability.
Electric systems are designed to be resilient and it would be difficult for attackers to disable many locations, said David Ortiz, an Energy Department deputy assistant secretary who was briefed on the FERC study. The agency’s findings nevertheless had value “as a way of starting a conversation on physical security,” he said.