The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee approved two bills on Feb. 12 to harden the U.S. electric grid against cyberattacks.

By unanimous voice vote, the committee passed H.R. 5760, the Grid Security Research and Development Act. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., increases research, development, and demonstration into the capacity of the energy sector to prepare for and withstand cyber attacks.

“A strong and secure electric grid is critical to our quality of life, economy, and national security,” Bera, who is the vice chairman of the committee, said after the legislation was passed. “However, the cybersecurity landscape is constantly evolving, with attacks on the grid becoming more frequent and more severe … We need sustained investment in research and technologies to keep pace with these rapidly evolving shifts.”

Specifically, the bill would:

  • “Authorize a comprehensive, coordinated research effort to advance cybersecurity capabilities for the energy sector across Department of Energy (DoE), Department of Homeland Security, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and National Science Foundation;
  • Authorize DoE to develop technologies to enhance the resilience of the electric grid and to improve relevant emergency response and management activities, including the development of technologies to withstand the impacts of climate change and extreme weather on energy sector infrastructure;
  • Require DoE to work with stakeholders to update relevant cybersecurity roadmaps and provide guidance on implementation of cybersecurity practices;
  • Authorize efforts to increase access to and use of testbed facilities to test and improve cybersecurity devices, components, and processes;
  • Support the development of a cybersecurity workforce by authorizing DOE to work with relevant Federal agencies and institutions of higher education to develop cybersecurity training and lessons; and
  • Authorize $150 million in fiscal year 2021 to carry out these activities, with 5 percent annual increases each year, rising to $182 million in fiscal year 2025.”

The committee also passed legislation cosponsored by Reps. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., and Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash. The Grid Modernization Research and Development Act of 2019 (H.R. 5428), would  “refine and expand research and development programs aimed at increasing the reliability and security of the grid.”

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“The electric grid powers the lives of all Americans – we need to invest in the research to ensure our constituents, companies, and defense installations have electricity when they need it most,” said Lamb when the bill was introduced in December. “This commonsense legislation supports the research programs to adopt new technologies, improve the environment and create family-sustaining jobs in the energy economy.”

If signed into law, the legislation would create new research and development programs by extending the Smart Grid Regional Demonstration initiative and authorizing a research, development, and demonstration program focused on “enhancing grid resilience and emergency response; designing and developing advanced controls, operations, monitoring, and visualization tools for the grid; and developing hybrid energy systems.”

Both bills move to the House floor for consideration. Neither piece of legislation has a companion bill in the Senate.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.