Electric cooperatives struggling to strengthen their cybersecurity have a chance to win up to $200,000 and significant technical assistance by entering a new Department of Energy competition. 

DOE’s Advanced Cybersecurity Technology (ACT) 1 Prize for electric co-ops, municipalities and small investor-owned utilities is a $9 million, three-phase competition with a track for utilities with “limited cybersecurity resources” and another for those serving military installations.

The competition is part of DOE’s Rural and Municipal Utility Cybersecurity Program, which was created under the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.

The first phase for the ACT 1 Prize is open now until Nov. 29 and requires entrants to watch two DOE webinars and file an application identifying their cybersecurity improvement goals. DOE recommends using NRECA’s 10 Cyber Goals program as a guide.

DOE will select 55 winners in phase one—50 with limited resources and five serving the military—to receive $50,000 cash. Co-ops with limited resources also win 60 hours of technical cyber training from the national laboratories, and those serving the military get 120 hours. 

Only phase-one winners will be eligible for the competition’s second phase, which begins in March 2024. 

Phase two applicants must submit a cybersecurity self-assessment and a “roadmap of potential solutions.” DOE will pick 25 winners from track one and five winners from track two for another $50,000 cash prize plus more hours of assistance. 

Phase three opens in October 2024 for successful entrants of phase two and offers $100,000 to up to 25 winners with limited cyber resources and up to five winners serving the military. Contestants must demonstrate that they have implemented solutions from their roadmaps and developed ways to test them. 

NRECA has up-to-date information and assistance for co-ops participating in the competition, including cybersecurity resources and a cybersecurity consortium.

“We can help answer questions our co-op members may have or get answers to their questions from our contacts at DOE, but we cannot apply on behalf of our members,” said Carter Manucy, NRECA’s senior manager for cybersecurity. 

“We encourage electric co-ops to pursue this innovative approach by DOE to deliver assistance and motivate small entities to raise their cyber maturity.”