Trump’s mysterious cybersecurity order bans bulk-generation gear from ‘adversaries’

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U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order (EO) on Friday declaring a national emergency, citing threats to the U.S. power system.

Trump’s order finds that “foreign adversaries are increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in the United States bulk-power system,” and, “It is imperative our bulk-power system remains secure from exploitation and foreign threats.

The order bans the “acquisition, importation, transfer, or installation” of generation and transmission gear designed, built or supplied by any firm subject to the jurisdiction of a “foreign adversary.”

According to a note from Norton Rose Fulbright, the order is “broadly written and would rule out not only buying such equipment, but also transferring any projects that use it,” declaring that the order “leaves more questions than it answers.”

Long list of banned gear

Trump ordered that the Secretary of Energy consult with other secretaries and agencies to identify bulk-power electric equipment “designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied” by a “foreign adversary” which “poses an undue risk of sabotage to or subversion” of the bulk-power system in the U.S.

The EO defines a “bulk-power system” as:

  • Facilities and control systems necessary for operating an interconnected electric energy transmission network, and transmission lines rated at 69 kV or more — but not local distribution facilities

“Bulk-power system electric equipment” refers to:

  • Substations, control rooms, or power generating stations, including reactors, capacitors, substation transformers, current coupling capacitors, large generators, backup generators, substation voltage regulators, shunt capacitor equipment, automatic circuit reclosers, instrument transformers, coupling capacity voltage transformers, protective relaying, metering equipment, high voltage circuit breakers, generation turbines, industrial control systems, distributed control systems, and safety instrumented systems.

More questions than answers

According to Norton Rose Fulbright, there are a number of issues that need clarification.

  • “Who are the foreign adversaries? The order seems directed at China. Russia, North Korea and Iran are not large suppliers of equipment for the U.S. power sector.” Why is this happening now? Is it in response to a particular incident? A particular company?
  • “Which power projects are affected? It arguably does not apply to equipment for wind and solar projects” The EO does not mention solar panels or batteries.
  • “The order does not seem to apply to distributed energy or distribution system equipment.” The EO does not mention energy storage.
  • How does the ban work in practice?

Although solar panels and batteries are not singled out, how does prohibiting products from certain vendors impact solar and storage project interconnection?

Foreign adversaries

In response to the EO, Dan Brouillette, Secretary of Energy, tweeted, “It is imperative our bulk-power system remains secure from exploitation and foreign threats. This Executive Order will lessen the ability of foreign adversaries to target our electrical grid.”