Monday, April 7, 2014

David G. Bronner: America's infrastructure

  Recently it was revealed that snipers took out 17 of 20 large transformers in about 20 minutes at a Silicon Valley PG&E substation last April, requiring 27 days and $16 million to repair. The California attack on the PG&E substation is considered "the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving our power grid that has ever occurred," according to the former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC).

  Another recent FERC analysis concluded only a small number of U.S. substations would need to be knocked out at the same time to cause a near nationwide blackout. That follows a 2009 Energy Department study that points out a large-scale attack would result in prolonged outages because procurement cycles for components range from months to years.

  Up until now, authorities had kept the event out of the national media for fear of copycats. The concern is that it was not an incident where people decided to have some good-old-boy fun, but rather a training event in prelude to a larger-scale occurrence. Lots of pre-planning took place, including precision targeting of cooling systems, AK-47 shells lacking finger prints and cutting underground fiber-optic telecommunications.

  In the U.S., there are over 164,000 miles of transmission lines and thousands of substations, including roughly 2,000 very large transformers, each of which is custom-made, weighing up to 500,000 pounds, and costing millions. Although the locations of substations are public knowledge, it is a closely guarded secret which combination of them would need to be knocked out to cause an extensive blackout. Our country's three-grid systems--Eastern, Western and Texas--are often located in rural areas, and thus impossible to secure the grid's entire infrastructure.

  I failed to encourage my contacts in the Bush and Obama administrations to focus on infrastructure and not spending our treasure on the misdeeds of Wall Street after "our generation's Depression of 2008-09." America must not only fix the power grid, but also repair the failing dams and water systems for a bright future. We need to seriously consider infrastructure investments that put our citizens back to work and strengthen our country in order to compete globally in the future.

  Likewise, Alabama's leaders cannot do little or nothing in solving our educational and non-education problems--such as prisons--without giving our state meaningful revenue increases and showing our citizens how those funds can have a positive effect on the future of Alabama.

  About the author: David Bronner is the CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama. Read more from The Advisor.

  This article was published in The Advisor, the monthly newsletter of the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

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