CSA values the ability to talk to – and listen to – all Association members
This blog is another avenue of communication
between us, one that is meant to go both ways

On these pages we will talk about issues, activities and events of interest to the industry as a whole, the Association specifically and you personally. We hope you will share your comments on things that interest you here and together we can make this blog an active and thought-provoking part of each of our work days. If you have items and opinions that you want to share with the readers, feel free to bring them into the conversation. Thank you for visiting the CSA Blog and check back regularly to see what’s new.


There's a new malware attack utilizing Microsoft Office

Head's up, Microsoft Office users!  A new zero-day attack is using fake versions of Office files - like Word documents - to install malware on a victim's computer. The attack was first detailed in a report from McAfee, which also offered steps that business users could take to protect themselves. According to the report, the attacks started in January and leverage a vulnerability that hadn't yet been disclosed. The hack affects all versions of Office, the report noted, including the latest version of Office 2016 on Windows 10. The problem starts when a user is sent a fake Word document from the attacker. Once the user tries to open the file, a malicious HTML application is downloaded from the attacker's server and is then executed as an .hta file (disguised as an RTF document), giving the hacker full code execution on the victim's computer, the report noted. "Thus, this is a logical bug, and gives the attackers the power to bypass any memory-based mitigations developed by Microsoft," the McAfee report said. Once the damage is done, a fake Word document is shown to the user, but at that point it is too late - malware is already installed on the machine. According to...
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A Power Pole, a Train and Free Pizza

Readers of our LINES Magazine may have noticed a few changes to the content in the latest issue. In my 'From the Editor' column, I requested members submit stories and photos of the people and events at your utility. In the latest America's Electric Cooperatives Newsletter, there's a story that encompasses just that: A Power Pole, a Train and Free Pizza. It's the story of how a Kansas lineworker shifts from taking pictures of electric system damage from an ice storm to preventing a train wreck. I know that utility folks are hard working and concerned for their communities. They are often called upon to render assistance by others and do so willingly. We saw a great example of that recently when crews from Clinton, Lenoir City and Cleveland went to help out during the Gatlinburg fire. Not to be left unnoticed, crews from West Kentucky and Plateau lent aid on the coast after Hurricane Matthew and Winchester helped out after a tornado. It's these kinds of activities that we want to spotlight and trumpet to the membership and the industry across the country. You deserve recognition for the efforts you make, whether as a crew or an individual, whether in the...
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Insights from 20,000+ utility personnel ... we've got you covered

Bridge graphic 1This is a very dynamic time to be involved with the utility industry. The ever-changing environment of technology, politics, supplies and demands makes for a lot of things to be concerned about. Recently, over 20,000 utility executives, managers and engineers voiced their concerns in the BRIDGE Index™ Utility Industry Grid Operations Survey. These respondents were broken down like this: Distribution - 40% Generation - 29% Transmission - 30% Cooperative - 21% Municipal utility - 25% Investor-owned - 50% Conducted by BRIDGE Energy Group, the annual utility survey provides insight on concerns, grid enhancement activities and priorities set forth by North American utilities. On the question of real-time systems operations challenges, 45% of repondents indicated that a limited supply of experienced staff and staff retirements are the top challengers. “The ability to staff real-time systems experts continues to be an impediment to both the delivery of new OT projects and meeting the demands of day-to-day systems operation. OT resource planning and risk management at a portfolio level is required to effectively prioritize and optimize what is typically a constrained set of key resources,” BRIDGE Energy Group reported. As a result of the shortage of experienced staff, 48% of repondents are considering or...
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Is Utility Hacking Closer Than We Think?

We have all heard the stories of how hackers from rogue nations and extremist groups are out to raise havoc with the U.S. infrastructure. We've been told it's not a matter of 'if', but of 'when'. As individuals, we generally shrug off the news and go about our daily work, but are we then becoming unwitting accomplices for those hackers? In a recent NPR article, a Vermont utility says it found malware linked to Russian hacking on an employee laptop (Dec 30, 2016). The discovery came after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security alerted utilities to the code associated with Grizzly Steppe, the name for what the Obama administration has called a Russian hacking operation. Burlington Electric, the municipally owned utility in Vermont's largest city, issued a statement saying the malware was detected in a single laptop not connected to the company's grid system. "We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding. Our team is working with federal officials to trace this malware and prevent any other attempts to infiltrate utility systems. We have briefed state officials and will support the investigation fully," the statement said. Vermont Public Radio reported on the hacking incident...
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EPA finishes 5-year Fracking Report

In August, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) four-year effort to summarize the environmental risks of fracking for oil and natural gas got its evaluations from a panel of outside experts. The highlight was a determination that the report’s summary painted slightly too rosy a picture of the practice. The original draft led by saying, “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.” While it noted that there had been instances of contamination (mostly from spills at the surface), the number “was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells." The outside reviewers said that was not clear enough and not sufficiently supported by the evidence in the rest of the report. They also wanted to see more explicit descriptions of the gaps in our knowledge that led to uncertainty in certain conclusions. Last week, the EPA released the final version of the report, which was changed to address the reviewer’s comments. The report summarizes a lot of information about fracking practices in use, including the amount of water injected into wells to induce fractures in the rock, the chemicals that lace that water to modify its...
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ID energy hogs with MIT sensor

One of the more interesting aspects of working in the utility industry is the focus on technology to improve all facets of the business. Don't know how many of you saw this tidbit, but it's quite an interesting bit of innovation that can be used cheaply and should be available relatively soon: Military IDs energy hogs with MIT sensor. Energy experts have long implored people to unplug electronic devices they aren't using to avoid "phantom power" - the energy a device consumes even when it's turned off. But MIT researchers have now developed a sensor that can save you energy by doing the opposite: leave everything plugged in, and it will tell you which of your electronics (or anything else with a power plug) are using too much electricity. Once installed, the device - comprised of five postage stamp-sized sensors - goes to work identifying the energy use of everything connected to the grid. Through extensive testing, the MIT team built a catalog of energy footprints for common household, industrial, and even military devices (the research was partly funded by the Office of Naval Research and some of the testing was conducted on board a US Coast Guard cutter). The extensive database will allow...
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A nuclear war coming to the South?

I’m sure most of us have heard the news that TVA sold its Belefonte Nuclear plant (Hollywood, Alabama) this week for $111 million, considerably less than the $6 billion they have invested in the facility since construction began in 1975. Through on-again-off-again construction, the adding and removing of components, and waiting on the completion of the Watts Bar nuclear plant in Tennessee, Belefonte sits at roughly 55% completed. For its part, TVA said it was pleased to get $111 million from a sale with a minimum auction price of $35.4 million. "Our primary goal in selling the site is to provide the best long-term economic return to the surrounding communities and the people of the Tennessee Valley," Jim Chardos, who manages the plant, was quoted in recent articles. The winning bid for the plant was provided by a group called Nuclear Development LLC, led by Chattanooga-based developer Franklin L. Haney. Nuclear Development, LLC is a family-owned and managed company Haney established in 2012. The company has developed a multi-faceted business with national investments in real estate and property development. The Haney family's goal is ‘to be the builder for a better tomorrow in communities across the nation’. The Haney family has...
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What does the Trump victory mean to utilities?

Today is Wednesday, November 9th and the nation is still stunned from the results of yesterday’s vote. What does the Trump victory mean? Where will it lead us over the next four years? Will this administration be a disaster, like the pundits predict? (The same pundits that predicted Clinton in a landslide!). What will the effect be on U.S. utilities? It’s all speculation right now, since no one can predict what will happen tomorrow, or over the next few years. Some folks have claimed that Nostradamus predicted the rise of Trump, and what will occur during his administration, but we’ll take what a guy who’s been dead for 450 years says with a grain of salt. As for utilities, we can get a sense of future energy policy based on comment s made by Trump and his advisors.   Though vague on details, a Trump administration is likely to be much friendlier towards oil, gas and coal producers, and less receptive to arguments from renewable energy and clean technology firms. The campaign has expressed that "energy independence" will be a top priority. Within the first 100 days of a Trump presidency, his campaign said he would "lift moratoriums" on energy production in...
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Free NESC Class on November 15th

CSA knows that utility professionals need to stay on top of the latest rules, regulations and technologies available to be efficient and effective at their jobs. Whether it's a CSA Academy course for CPE credits or something else we hear of that we know you need, we want to make sure everyone is aware of the availability of education and training sessions. To that end, we are promoting the Introduction to the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) course being offered by IEEE. This free online course will help you to gain an in depth overview of the 2017 NESC, the standard for safe installation, operation, and maintenance of electric power and communication utility systems, from the experts who publish it. The 4-week course presents an introduction to the 2017 edition of the NESC and explains its purpose, scope, methodology, some basic rules and their application, as well as an overview of code adoption procedures, effective dates and more. Provided in 1-hour-per-week sessions, it  is intended for the general public and utility workers (employees and contractors) designing or implementing practical safeguards during the installation, operation, and maintenance of electric supply and communication facilities. There are no pre-requisites for participants. Students and professionals, even those not...
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The Cure for Global Warming?

I spend a lot of time perusing the news for items that may be of interest to our utility members. I stumbled across this little gem recently and wondered 1) will this serendipitous discovery become the talk of the global warming community? and 2) will it take off to become a huge component in the production of power?. The article? Avery Thompson at Popular Mechanics.com published this story: "Scientists Accidentally Discover Efficient Process to Turn CO2 Into Ethanol". "Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have discovered a chemical reaction to turn CO2 (carbon dioxide, everyone's least favorite greenhouse gas) into ethanol, potentially creating a new technology to help avert climate change. Their findings were published in the journal ChemistrySelect." The findings is a highly technical paper reporting "a common element, nanostructured catalyst for the direct electrochemical conversion of CO2 to ethanol with high Faradaic efficiency (63 % at −1.2 V vs RHE) and high selectivity (84 %) that operates in water and at ambient temperature and pressure. Lacking noble metals or other rare or expensive materials, the catalyst is comprised of Cu nanoparticles on a highly textured, N-doped carbon nanospike film. Electrochemical analysis and density functional theory (DFT) calculations suggest a...
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Keith McPeak
Nicely done. Fuels are almost always the by-products of carbon-based waste materials. Kudos to Oak Ridge scientists for discoverin... Read More
Tuesday, 18 October 2016 18:46
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It's Friday and the Cyber Mission Force is ready to roll

If any of you have a real concern about cybersecurity and hacks of your utility systems, you probably caught this interesting bit of news. Recent reports say that  a 5,000-person Pentagon force created to bolster military computer networks and initiate cyber attacks against terror groups should be ready to carry out its mission by the end of the week, a key step in improving the U.S.’s ability to respond to hacks by overseas adversaries. The Cyber Mission Force will reach "initial operational capability” by Friday, said Colonel Daniel J.W. King, a Cyber Command spokesman, in an e-mail. "What it means is we have the people, the tools, we’ve practiced and we’re ready," said Mark Young, chief security officer and senior vice president at IronNet Cybersecurity Inc. and a former senior executive at Cyber Command. The force, which falls under the U.S. Cyber Command created in 2009, will focus on the highest priorities, such as risks from Russia, China, Iran and terrorist groups including Islamic State, according to Bob Stasio, a fellow at the Truman National Security Project and former chief of operations at the National Security Agency’s Cyber Operations Center. The mission force is tasked with defending the Defense Department’s data and its...
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What Do the New FLSA Overtime Rules Mean to You?

The U.S. Department of Labor recently released the final new rules on Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)* overtime standards. While HR professionals have been talking about this behind closed doors for about a year now, there wasn’t much public buzz about it … until now; it’s making a much more public splash on the Today Show and NPR, to name a few. But what is this law, how does it work, and how does it impact you? Effective Dec. 1, 2016, a new rule goes into effect for overtime regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act's minimum wage and overtime protections. Previously, employees were excluded if they were salaried, earned at least $455 per week ($23,660 per year) or were in positions considered executive, administrative or professional. Now, those exemptions will be lifted and the pay threshold for overtime protections will be raised. Since May 2016, employers have analyzed, discussed and contemplated how the changes in overtime law will impact their organizations. With a little more than two months until the deadline, now is the time to make sure your organization has an action plan for implementation. On September 28th, CSA will be airing a webinar to discuss the new regulations and provide...
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September Issue of LINES magazine is out!

CSA LINES September 2016 cover CSA is pleased to announce that the latest LINES magazine has been published! The September, 2016 edition of our free news/newsletter includes articles like: 2016 AUEC Review;  Are you prepared for an active shooter incident? Is virtual reality coming to your utility? UtiliTrak: Much more than a GIS system;  Falling for the Ruse: Getting at the Source of Virus and Malware Infections;  Association Member News;  Game Time chili recipe to kickoff the football season, and more! LINES is published tri-annually and mailed out to member utilities - look for your hardcopy this week! The electronic edition is now available by clicking on the MEDIA tab on our website at www.csa1.com.
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Utilities' drone use about to takeoff

Drone InspectionWe are in "one of the most dramatic periods of change in the history of transportation," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recently. He was talking about all of it: the self-driving cars, the smart-city movement, the maritime innovations. But the staggering prediction of the day goes to the drone industry: The Federal Aviation Administration expects some 600,000 drones to be used commercially within a year. (For context, the FAA says that 20,000 drones are currently registered for commercial use.) What's expected to produce a 30-fold increase in a matter of months is a new rule that went into effect August 29th and makes it easier to become a commercial drone operator. "The FAA forecasts there could be as many as 600,000 unmanned aircraft used commercially during the first year after this rule is in place," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a press conference. "Drones are helping to create a whole new means of realizing the American dream," he added. The new rules change the process of becoming a commercial drone pilot: Instead of having to acquire a traditional pilot's license and getting a special case-by-case permission from the regulators, drone operators now need to pass a new certification test and...
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Meter Data Management White Paper Posted

Smart20meter20photo3 If you are an engineer - or just want to learn more about meter data management - CSA has posted a new white paper titled "Meter Data Management – BACK TO THE FUTURE", written by J. Skip Hall, Orbit MDM Brand Manager. Here's a sample from the report:    "Meter Data Management is a compound and complex term. Likely the most descriptive term in the energy vocabulary, MDM is probably one of the least understood. The value of MDM is very often hidden because the data and information from an MDM system is funneled to the CIS, Billing and other components of the utility’s system. Meter Data Management itself should be thought of as a software solution enabling forward views. A software solution looking ahead beyond just determining what did happen with a specific incident. A solution that can look even farther ahead than what can be done to prevent an incident from occurring in the future. By providing the transformation of raw data to visual and graphical information to the consumer through simple and understandable customer portals, a subtle change is occurring that is altering the usage of energy by the consumer – at his own election and by his own...
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National Infrastructure Advisory Council Releases Report on Water Sector Resilience

Many in our region of the country are very familiar with the New Madrid fault, a major seismic zone and a prolific source of intraplate earthquakes (earthquakes within a tectonic plate) in the southern and midwestern United States, stretching to the southwest from New Madrid, Missouri. A magnitude 7.7 earthquake where the fault crosses the Missouri-Tennessee border woul be devastating, snapping water distribution pipes and toppling power lines in seven states, as fas as 200 miles from the quake's epicenter. About 1.1 million homes would be without water and 2.6 million without electricity , for days, weeks or possibly months. In a report filed in November 2008, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency warned that a serious earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone could result in "the highest economic losses due to a natural disaster in the United States," further predicting "widespread and catastrophic" damage across Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and particularly Tennessee. The tremors would weaken levees and dams, rupture sewage pipes and isolate communities. Such a catastrophe would be beyond the capacity of current emergency response, according to a National Infrastructure Advisory Council report on the U.S. water sector's resilience to natural disaster...
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CSA Launches New MDM and GIS Websites

New Home PagesIt has been another banner year at CSA with record installations, new product development and extensive system enhancements. We've also upgraded our communications channels through the development of a more advanced and functional website and the adoption of several social media platforms. Now, we're pleased to announce that we've taken another step to inform and involve our members in the business of your Association. We know that the engineers out there are a special breed, focused and attentive to the workings of their field with little time or interest in much of the fluff communications circulating around the internet. To that end, CSA has launched two new engineering-related websites dedicated to meter data management and utility GIS.   We invite you to visit our Orbit MDM website at http://orbitmdm.com; you will see how our sysytem compliments the many software components utilized by utilities today from AMI, CIS, Billing, GIS and other specialty software systems. Orbit MDM receives, reports and archives electric, gas and water meter information in numerous formats from ANSI specified to MultiSpeak. You may learn the benefits of Orbit MDM, how it collects and manages the vast amount of smart data your utility receives, the extensive collection of reports that make every...
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Is it Time to Land the Big One?

blue marlinAs most of you are aware, CSA's Annual User Education Conference is coming up in the last week of June. The event promises lots of quality information, great conversation with old friends and fun. If you haven't already registered, check out the entire program at our dedicated cvent site: 2016 AUEC. In addition to the work is the fun - the 19th Annual CSA Golf Tournament @ the Peninsula Golf Club, the discount passes to the Waterville USA waterpark/amusement park, and deep sea fishing with Reel Surprise Charters. It's this last item that has me charged up today. The fishing excursion leaves out of San Roc Cay Marina - across the street from the Resort - for a 6-hour round trip into the Gulf of Mexico. The boat will travel about 20 miles, and usually lands plenty of Red Snapper. Snapper are reef fish; they live around structure whether natural, like rocks or coral, or manmade, like sunken ships or concrete rubble. Alabama now has the largest artificial reef system in the country, and upward of 35 percent of the total snapper catch in the Gulf of Mexico comes off the Alabama coast. Will you catch anything bigger than the Snapper? There's no guarantee,...
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The Swamp Hunt Winners!

CSA would like to thank everyone that participated in the recent Swamp Hunt. We hope you found it interesting and discovered the ins-and-outs of the communications channels we are now using to keep you informed. The contest challenged you to hunt through this website, the brochures and newsletters available on it and our other media sites - Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Vimeo. The questions used required a little bit of tracking, observation, and luck to find answers - much like you'd need to find that 10-pt buck or wild turkey.  As it turned out, we have three women who have shown the tenacity to bag the prize! First place went to Crystal Gaddes at Mt. Pleasant Power System, second place went to Sonya England at Marshall-Dekalb Electric Cooperative, and third place went to Chasity Carwile at the City of Oxford Electric Department. Congratulations ladies!
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Ransomware Virus on the Prowl

Ransomware has become an albatross around the neck, targeting businesses, hospitals, and personal computers worldwide and extorting millions of dollars. Typical ransomware targets a victim's computer, encrypts files on it, and then demands a ransom in exchange for a key that will decrypt the files. Guess what could be the next target of ransomware malware? Recently, the Lansing Board of Water & Light (Michigan) announced that the company became a victim of a ransomware attack that knocked the utility's internal computer systems offline. The attack took place in April when one of the company’s employees opened a malicious email attachment. Once clicked, the malware installed on the computer and quickly began encrypting the organization's files, according to the Lansing State Journal. The cyberattack on the utility’s internal network forced the shutdown of its accounting system and email service indefinitely for about 250 employees. It also forced the shut down of phone lines, including a customer assistance line that’s often used for account inquiries. The good news in all of this is that all customer account data remained secure. When ransomware attacks first began years ago, malicious parties were targeting ordinary people outside of corporate environments in an effort to make a...
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