Another concern is that transformer hardening could cause unforeseen and negative consequences. “We have to make sure that no harm is done when we deploy [hardening] devices,” Lauby says.
NERC spokeswoman Kimberly Mielcarek points out that the regulators have not been ignoring the issue. She points to the joint NERC-DOE report on geomagnetic disturbances in June 2010 and notes that the corporation has established the Geomagnetic Disturbance Task Force and recently held a technical conference on the threat that included critics like Kappenman and Pry.
Sometime in the first quarter of 2012, NERC will issue another report on geomagnetic threats to the electrical grid with recommendations for operations and planning. That may prompt industry “to work toward standards that they would all agree to follow,” Lauby says.
But that could take up to two years, and such standards would likely only require utilities to determine how vulnerable they are to geomagnetic disturbances. By then, February 2013 will have come and gone, answering the question definitively outside of the lab.