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How Vulnerable are Power Lines?

William Opalka

Energy Manage power linesThe electric power grid in Arkansas was attacked in August in what the Federal Bureau of Investigation determined was a deliberate act to disrupt transmission of electricity during a summer heat wave. Although the Arkansas attack was an isolated event, it highlights the vulnerability of the nation’s electric grid, according to an article in Forbes.

Original media reports indicated vandals or theives were responsible for the Arkansas crime that involved someone climbing a 100-foot-high transmission tower and severing an Entergy power line alongside a Union Pacific railroad track near the City of Cabot. Two days later, after a preliminary investigation, the FBI offered a $20,000 reward.

The FBI believes that the person responsible climbed the 100-foot tower, severed the line with a saw or similar object, and removed several bolts at the base of the tower. They then placed the cut cable across the track in an apparent attempt to have a moving train pull the tower down.

“The central region north of Little Rock is served from the Morrilton and Conway areas through two 500 kV lines. A single contingency loss of a transmission line in this region could cause overloading on the other lines serving the area,” Entergy officials testified before the Arkansas Public Service Commission in 2010 when it proposed the line.

If suceesful, the attack on the line could have caused major disruptions in the state. August 21 was the first day of the longest warm spell in central Arkansas over the past 12 months, which began on August 21, 2013 and ended on September 14, 2013, according to historical data Weather Spark.

The Forbes article quotes James Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and a venture capitalist at Lux Capital, saying the nation’s electric grid has “the security equivalent of a house left with the door unlocked, the windows open, and millions of dollars of jewelry and home entertainment equipment strewn about for the taking.”

Photo credit: Dave Lindblom’s Flickr photostream



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