NRECA will seek input from electric cooperatives and work with federal agencies on strategies to enhance cybersecurity through the supply chain, procurement and testing of critical foreign-made equipment as the Biden administration considers broader action to secure the electric grid.

“We want our members to give us clear input on how a potential slate of actions can impact them," said Stephanie Crawford, NRECA senior regulatory manager. “We are also working with the federal government on what we may need to partner on and what resources we may need to implement any of these actions."

The Department of Energy on April 20 issued a request for information to help shape a long-term strategy to protect the grid. It includes possible prohibition authority over the supply chain used by the electric sector for critical equipment. This authority could extend to distribution facilities that serve defense installations or any critical infrastructure, including health care, communications and transportation facilities.

NRECA will file comments to DOE's request by June 7 and is encouraging member co-ops to offer insights.

“We will provide the administration with our members' perspective on what can be done to address cyber and other security risks to the grid brought on by supply chain issues and the type of action needed based on electric co-ops' concerns and activities in this area," Crawford said.

DOE said it will evaluate the comments to determine what further action to take to protect critical infrastructure and shore up domestic equipment manufacturing. The department said utilities should operate during this time “in a way that minimizes the risk of installing electric equipment and programmable components that are subject to foreign adversaries' ownership, control, or influence."

The Biden administration initially suspended a 2020 executive order on the bulk power system and its associated ban on procurement of certain foreign-made equipment to support defense-critical electric infrastructure. That ban was revoked on April 20, and the national emergency declared in the overall order expired May 1.

But Crawford said co-ops should remain proactive as DOE lays the groundwork for a new order.  

“Until we have greater clarity on DOE's direction, co-ops should look broadly at their risk approach," she said. “Action is coming."