(The following is reprinted courtesy of USA Today)

by Jim Cunningham

The greater threat we face is the daily bombardment of cyberattacks on our nation’s critical infrastructure — most notably on the electric sector.

The massive electric power outages in Texas may seem puzzling to many: How can a state so rich in energy resources be brought to its knees by a winter storm, leaving millions of households without electricity and many without water?

The early blame game has elected officials pointing the finger at renewable energy resources and “green energy” policies, and calling for the heads of power companies and the state’s electricity regulators. The governor announced he is launching an official investigation, and judgment should be reserved until an unbiased process has been completed.

Finger-pointing at this point is misguided and counterproductive. Renewables only supply about 20% of Texas’ electricity and are unrelated to the state’s other traditional power generators that are shut down or malfunctioning. The fact is that electricity system operators in Texas did not adequately plan for a highly unlikely event — in this case a pair of massive winter storms engulfing more of the state than usual, exacerbated by sustained bitter cold. It is important to note, for example, that traditional power plants depend on multiple systems for operations, and it appears that those systems may not have been designed or winterized to withstand extreme cold weather.

Invest more in power grid resilience

Often companies and governments do not plan for such events because it is expensive to do so and the likelihood of needing such a plan is remote. Across the country, regulatory agencies and the utility companies they oversee face a constant balancing act in choosing where to invest in their systems, and budget considerations often constrain planning for unlikely events, especially when incurring such costs could result in higher electric rates for consumers.

Sadly, this is not the first time the electric system in Texas has been brought to its knees by a winter storm. The winter storms of 2011 wreaked havoc on the state and its residents, and a report on the root causes of that devastation offered policymakers a series of actions to prevent a repeat. As state officials embark on a similar analysis of the current crisis, they should examine and publicly disclose which recommendations from 2011 were implemented and explain why others were not. Clearly, history repeats itself, and with two highly destructive winter weather crises occurring in Texas just 10 years apart, the lessons from both should be heeded and acted upon decisively.

At the end of the day, the situation in Texas provides an important lesson: As a nation, we must increase our investment in electric grid resilience and plan for the full range of events that could disable our electric grid — because the cost of not doing so is potentially catastrophic.

The harsh reality is that without electricity, very few things that are critical to public health and safety will function, and life as we know it grinds to a halt. From transportation to health care and emergency services, grocery stores and water supplies, cell phones, the internet and banking, nearly everything we consider essential relies on electricity.