Energy

Utilities pivot from power plants to grid work for profits

RALEIGH, NC — “Electric utilities are pouring billions of dollars into a race to prevent terrorists or enemy governments from shutting down the power grid and everything that depends on electricity in America’s hyper-connected society.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security detailed last month how Russian hackers have targeted the nation’s energy grid. Officials said they could have caused major blackouts, but instead, the hackers appeared more focused on reconnaissance.

The concern over cyber-threats comes as power companies shift focus to pursue extensive upgrades in software, switches and wires to enable a much more flexible distribution of electricity.

That means the likelihood of rate increases for consumers. Utilities have long based their business on building power plants and selling the juice to customers, adding a regulator-approved profit margin to pay for it all. But the need for big generation projects has fallen after decades of energy conservation, fewer factories and the swapping of coal-fired power plants for cheaper and cleaner-burning natural gas.

So electricity companies are telling Wall Street they’re shifting their business plans. Now they’re having customers pay to replace aging equipment, block malicious hackers, minimize outages, accommodate the upsurge of wind and solar power and allow consumers more control over when and how much power they use.”

— Emery P. Dalesio, Associated Press

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