NRECA Research is launching a $4 million cybersecurity program to improve the cyber posture of electric cooperatives of all sizes under a four-year agreement with the Department of Energy.

“As cyber threats evolve, so must electric co-op efforts to protect against them,” NRECA CEO Jim Matheson said. “Project Guardian will accelerate ongoing electric cooperative cybersecurity collaboration and, in partnership with DOE, help protect the electric grid from increasingly sophisticated cybersecurity threats and attacks.”

DOE's Rural and Municipal Utility Advanced Cybersecurity Grant and Technical Assistance (RMUC) Program is funding the agreement between NRECA and the agency’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER) through April 30, 2029.

RMUC was created under the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law with $250 million to assist electric co-ops and small utilities in bolstering their cyber defenses and their participation in cybersecurity information sharing.

This summer, NRECA Research will initiate a co-op working group to provide feedback on Project Guardian's effectiveness as it strives toward its goals. The working group will include small, midsize and large distribution co-ops and generation and transmission co-ops.

The working group will also designate “cyber champions” at co-ops to serve as points of contact in rural localities or regions and enhance collaboration and communication with cybersecurity agencies, including DOE, the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center (E-ISAC) and the FBI.

The project will adapt the self-assessment tools of NRECA’s groundbreaking Rural Cooperative Cybersecurity Capabilities (RC3) Program to individual co-ops to help them strengthen their cyber defenses and incorporate tailored cybersecurity tabletop exercises in their planning.

“By developing a self-assessment framework and right-sized incident response plan guidance, we can help co-ops of any size gain higher cybersecurity maturity,” said Carter Manucy, NRECA director of cybersecurity.

The project will support additional resources for NRECA’s Threat Analysis Center, including crisis communication guidelines, tabletop exercises, and advisories on emerging threats and supply chain risks.

To aid co-ops seeking cybersecurity staff, the project team will work with DOE’s national labs and industry to standardize job descriptions and shape career roadmaps and training programs.

“Project Guardian is for all rural utilities, and our goal is to make sure that no co-op is left behind,” Manucy said. “By working together, we will serve as guardians against cybersecurity threats.”