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Oklahoma bills would ask electric customers to fund upgrades for electromagnetic disturbances

Upgrading the electric grid to better deal with disturbances from solar flares or electromagnetic pulse bombs could be before Oklahoma voters under proposed legislation.
by Paul Monies Modified: March 11, 2014 at 5:00 pm •  Published: March 10, 2014

It sounds like something out of science fiction or disaster movies, but the prospect of a large-scale electromagnetic pulse taking out the electrical grid is one being talked about at the Oklahoma Capitol.

At least two bills want voters to decide if they are willing to pay more on their electric bills to shield key equipment from electromagnetic pulse (EMP) radiation.

As far as science is concerned, the threat is real. The sun shoots off solar flares on regular cycles that can affect electronics on earth, although the effects are usually limited in area and intensity. The sun is about to start another phase of such geomagnetic disturbances or solar storms.

The threat from a man-made EMP in the form of a nuclear explosion or a “dirty bomb” is also real, but experts are split on the likelihood of such a weapon being deployed over the United States that would fry the electrical grid and communications devices.

Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, said he was convinced of the need to protect the electrical grid after hearing Frank Gaffney, the founder and president of the Washington-based Center for Security Policy. Gaffney, a frequent speaker on EMP issues, was among the presenters at a November event hosted by the Legislative Counterterrorism Caucus.

Blackwell’s House Bill 2623 would put a state question on November’s ballot to ask voters if they are willing to fund infrastructure upgrades on their electric bills. The bill passed a House committee and could be heard on the floor some time this week, he said.

Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, authored Senate Bill 2016, a companion bill with similar EMP language. It passed a Senate committee in February.

Blackwell said he realizes customers might balk at costs to protect the electrical infrastructure from an EMP. Early estimates range from $9 million to more than $250 million, depending on the level of protection, he said.

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by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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