- U.S. lawmakers on Thursday pressed the nation’s energy cybersecurity chief for details about foreign-manufactured components, but were frustrated by a lack of answers regarding the widespread use of Chinese-made equipment on the U.S grid.
- “We’re now doing that analysis,” Puesh Kumar, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response Preparedness, told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. CESER is undertaking a broad review of grid hardware and is prioritizing its testing through a “risk-based approach,” he said.
- Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., asked why the Biden administration suspended an order issued by President Trump that restricted the procurement of foreign power equipment. That order is under review by the White House, Kumar said, and was suspended in favor of a more “holistic” approach to grid security.
Lawmakers at the hearing on cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the United States’ energy infrastructure repeatedly came back to the problem of China and its role as a major supplier of grid components, particularly components for large transformers.
“I think it's fair to say that we would all like to see what our dependency is on China's supply chain, because we're trying to break that immediately, if not quicker,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said.
“It is the Chinese government that poses the greatest long-term cyber threat to America's critical energy infrastructure,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
“We really need to be focused on the China threat when it comes to the critical equipment, both hardware and software that is deployed across the United States,” Kumar said. CESER and the U.S. Department of Energy have been focused on establishing the “provenance” of equipment, including subcomponents that may come from China or other adversaries, he said.
The agency is testing equipment “down to the chip level and down to the software level” in partnership with DOE national laboratories, he said. Kumar offered to privately brief senators about the work.
Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, called Chinese-made equipment a “hair-on-fire, urgent matter” and implored Kumar to bring a “much sharper answer” next time he appeared before the committee.
The Trump administration in May 2020 issued an order restricting the installation of bulk power system equipment sourced from adversaries of the United States.
The Biden administration suspended the prohibition on Chinese-made grid equipment in 2021, amid a sprint to address persistent threats to the nation’s electric grid.
Hawley questioned that decision. “Procurement of electric equipment made in China and allowing it to be integrated into our grid is a bad idea, and I'm baffled as to why this administration is allowing it to go forward,” he said.
“We're taking a more strategic approach to this,” Kumar said, explaining why the Trump executive order is under review. “It's too large of a problem to start to have one solution, which was the solution in that executive order.”
Manchin also raised the issue of long lead times for procuring new distribution transformers, which can now run three years. “These products were available within eight to 12 weeks just a few years ago,” Manchin said. “I don't know what the hell happened to the production line.”
Labor shortages account for some of the slowdown, along with minerals shortages, said Kumar. The rapid pace of electrification is also a contributing factor, he said.
“You’re seeing firsthand what happens if we don't have the critical mineral supply, or reliable foreign supply chain,” Manchin replied.