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Lawmakers Warned About Threats To Colorado's Power Grid

DENVER (CBS4) - Colorado lawmakers addressed a bill on Wednesday aimed at making sure the state's power grid is protected.

A power outage in one part of the city, even for a few hours, can wreak havoc. A statewide outage, lasting days or even months would be devastating.

Whether it's a solar flare or terrorist attack, the risk of a massive blackout to the US power grid is very real. And while Congress is well aware, it has failed to take action.

power grid mtng
(credit: CBS)

That's why scientists who conducted a study of the risks to the nation's power grid are traveling the country to warn states not to wait on the federal government.

"What differentiates this other blackout type scenarios is the mechanisms can cause long term permanent damage to many assets," said John Kappenman, an investigator with the Electromagnetic Pulse Commission.

State Rep. Joann Ginal, the sponsor of a bill aimed at protecting Colorado's power grid, said, "It's very import in regards to homeland security, security of our citizens in Colorado, and just day-to-day living."

Rep. Joann Ginal, power grid protection bill
Rep. Joann Ginal (credit: CBS)

The bill calls for the Public Utilities Commission to identify where the vulnerabilities are, how to mitigate them, and where funding would come from.

Power companies, including Xcel Energy, pushed back in opposition.

"We think most successful processes are those where you have buy-ins from the entities who are being studied. Nothing is worse than trying to drag people kicking and screaming to a table with a study being funded by third party. It's just not the way to get things done," Jeanie Frickey-Saito, Tri-State Energy lobbyist, said.

Some lawmakers also worry the information might get into the wrong hands.

"Most of the time the bad guys already know about it anyway. And in order for people to understand why they need to do this, they need to understand the facts. This is a real threat not just a theoretical threat," said Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, of the Congressional Electromagnetic Pulse Task Force.

Experts say even though electrical lines cross state lines, it's possible to isolate and protect Colorado's power grid through the use of sophisticated surge protectors.

The study would be entirely funded with donations; nevertheless, the bill failed Wednesday afternoon. A dozen other states have passed, or are considering, similar legislation.

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