Sabotage of Overhead High Voltage Power Lines

During the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) hearing on the 500kV double-circuit Heartland Transmission Project that will negatively impact thousands of people, one of the interveners raised a frightening thought. He suggested that building an above-ground high voltage power line the massive size of the Heartland line in the Sherwood Park Greenbelt right next to all the petroleum processing infrastructure in “Refinery Row” might create a larger target for possible terrorist activities. It was later suggested at the hearing that burying the power line could avert such a risk or threat.

This certainly is not the first or the last time the vulnerability of overhead high voltage infrastructure to sabotage has been or will be raised. For example, a recent website called Operation Circuit Breaker by David Omick provides “An examination of vulnerabilities in the electric transmission infrastructure of the United States and how they could set the stage for the next 9/11”. The website discusses the relative ease with which an attack on high voltage electricity infrastructure could be conducted and provides several possible solutions.

One of the solutions offered by Omick to greatly reduce transmission line vulnerability to attack is to move away from the large centralized power plant paradigm (e.g., coal, hydro) to locating more and smaller power generation plants in closer proximity to population centres where the power demand is the highest. Widespread incorporation of more distributed generation and microgrids could greatly shorten the overall length of overhead transmission lines, and thereby reduce the opportunity for sabotage. A more distributed generation scenario would consist of the local generation of electricity from many smaller, diversified sources including solar, wind, fuel cell and hydrocarbon-fueled generators.

Fortunately, a counter-terrorism unit was recently established in Alberta by the federal government to help protect the energy industry from attacks by extremists. The Canadian Press indicates, “The integrated national security enforcement team will be led by the RCMP and include officers from CSIS, the Edmonton and Calgary police forces and federal border patrol.”

Burying high voltage power lines would certainly help to minimize the vulnerability of Alberta’s electricity transmission infrastructure to possible terrorist attacks.

~ by RETA on August 7, 2012.

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