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WASHINGTON — Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.
Many of the intrusions were detected not by the companies in charge of the infrastructure but by U.S. intelligence agencies, officials said. Intelligence officials worry about cyber attackers taking control of electrical facilities, a nuclear power plant or financial networks via the Internet.
A new study released this week highlights what experts have been saying for years: The United States faces significant risk of power brownouts and blackouts as early as next summer that may cost tens of billions of dollars and threaten lives.
The study, "Lights Out In 2009?" warns that the U.S. "faces potentially crippling electricity brownouts and blackouts beginning in the summer of 2009, which may cost tens of billions of dollars and threaten lives."
"If particularly vulnerable regions, like the Western U.S., experience unusually hot temperatures for prolonged periods of time in 2009, the potential for local brownouts or blackouts is high, with significant risk that local disruptions could cascade into regional outages that could cost the economy tens of billions of dollars," the report warned.
U.S. baseload generation capacity reserve margins "have declined precipitously to 17 percent in 2007, from 30-40 percent in the early 1990s," according to the study. A 12-15 percent capacity reserve margin is the minimum required to ensure reliability and stability of the nation’s electricity system. Compounding this capacity deficiency, the projected U.S. demand in the next ten years is forecast to grow by 18 percent, far exceeding the projected eight percent growth in baseload generation capacity between now and 2016.