The Department of Energy (DOE) will test the power grid's ability to recover from outages caused by cyberattacks in a new exercise this autumn dubbed "Liberty Eclipse," E&E News reports.
The exercise on New York's Plumb Island will focus on the intersection between the natural gas and electric utility sectors and the grid's ability to "blackstart," or recover from a widespread outage, according to documents supplied to the news outlet.
News of the exercise comes as DOE prepares a plan to bail out coal and nuclear plants in the name of national security. DOE argues those plants may be less vulnerable to outages than those supplied by natural gas, a point contested by utility leaders and a broad group of sector experts.
News of the DOE's new grid exercise comes amid heightened tensions in Washington over grid security and the federal government's proposed policies to strengthen it.
Last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned in a public web presentation that Russian-backed hackers had gained the ability to "throw switches" on the power grid in attacks that claimed "hundreds" of victims.
The announcement caused some alarm among sector experts, who said hackers do not have the ability to cause widespread outages today. DHS quickly walked it back, telling Utility Dive last week there was "some context that was lacking" in its webinar.
The cyber concerns garnered extra attention in the sector because the White House has used them as justification for its plans to save uneconomic coal and nuclear plants from retirement. A leaked administration memo this spring raised concerns that gas pipelines could be more susceptible to pipeline attacks — a theory officials said they would test with the new exercise.
"I don't know that we've been able to make that judgment — remember that we don't have perfect visibility," Jeanette Manfra, assistant secretary for DHS's Office of Cybersecurity, told E&E. "[Pipelines are] definitely a target, [but] the electric sector has a lot of resilience built into it."
The Liberty Eclipse exercise will also study blackstart techniques, which utilities use to restore power after widespread outages. A 2018 report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission concluded that the U.S. grid has sufficient blackstart capabilities, but the exercise will reportedly target faster methods of restoring power developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The exercise on Plumb Island, a secure DHS facility off the coast of New York, will take place on Nov. 1 with a two-day tabletop exercise for energy executives in mid-October.