There have been numerous claims making their way around social media over the last several days, falsely saying President Joe Biden gave China access to and/or control over the U.S. power grid with an executive order.
Headlines like “Biden’s order could let China control US electric grid” from The Washington Examiner helped fuel the fire for conspiracy theorists across the nation.
Institute for Energy Research (IER) also wrote the following report:
President Biden has an energy plan that will result in the need for an abundance of new transformers as he transitions the U.S. electricity system into a predominantly wind and solar power system. https://t.co/lnej7NvzlT
— Institute for Energy Research (@IERenergy) February 9, 2021
IER wrote: “For Biden to revoke President Trump’s order means that he is not concerned about potential threats to the U.S. electric grid by China,”
“It is not clear whether the order signed by Trump’s Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette prohibiting the importation of Chinese equipment remains in place after Biden suspended Trump’s Executive Order.”
“Regardless, for Biden to signal, on his first day in office, that he could be amenable to opening the American electricity grid up to problematic Chinese equipment is very troubling.”
Many other individuals took things even further that just the Washington Examiner. They falsely claimed that President Joe Biden gave China access to the U.S. power grid, even making the claim that it was China that caused millions people in Texas to lose power in the middle of an extreme winter storm, resulting in Biden declaring a state of emergency spanning multiple states.
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None of this is true.
Biden did, however, sign an an executive order that suspended for 90 days Trump administration order that barred the installation of equipment in the U.S power grid that was purchased from foreign adversaries into electrical infrastructure. This step was taken so the Biden’s administration could have a chance to examine Trump’s executive order.
This action by Biden does not, however, somehow unilaterally grant China access to U.S. power grids.
The U.S. power grids consists of multiple major pieces, one of which connects the western half of the U.S. with western Canada, while another connects the eastern half of the U.S. and eastern Canada, while a third section of the grid functions independently which supplies the bulk of Texas. These three systems, in conjunction with a fourth grid that serves Quebec, are called the bulk-power system (BPS).
Trump signed his executive order titles “Securing the United States Bulk-Power System” in May of 2020. Trump’s executive order blocked the use of bulk-power system electrical equipment “designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied, by persons owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of a foreign adversary”.
The Trump administration believed this would significantly reduce the risk of a cyberattack through the hacking of U.S. electrical systems.
Trump’s energy secretary, Dan Brouillette, issued an order in December of 2020 that was fueled by Trump’s May 2020 executive order. Brouillette’s order “prohibits utilities that supply critical defense facilities (CDF) from procuring from the People’s Republic of China, specific BPS electric equipment that poses an undue risk to the BPS, the security or resilience of critical infrastructure, the economy, national security, or safety and security of Americans.”
Brouillette essentially banned equipment purchases from China from being used in the U.S electrical infrastructure.
President Joe Biden, in January of 2021, signed his own executive order called, “Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis”, which suspended Trump’s executive order for 90 days.
President Biden’s allows the U.S. secretary of energy and director of the Office of Management and Budget to “jointly consider whether to recommend that a replacement order be issued.”
To be clear, this does not mean, in any way, that China has 90 days of unrestricted access to U.S. electrical grids. The U.S. Department of Energy went on to say that during the 90-suspension of Trump’s order, utility companies and municipalities still have to refrain from using electrical equipment listed in Brouillette’s order:
“[During] this 90-day review period, Responsible Utilities will refrain from installation of bulk-power system electric equipment or programmable components specified in Attachment 1 of the Prohibition Order that is subject to foreign adversaries’ ownership, control, or influence, and that Responsible Utilities will continue to work with the Department on identifying and mitigating supply chain vulnerabilities. To ensure that security of the Nation’s bulk-power system is strengthened during this suspension, the Department requests that Responsible Utilities designate critical defense facilities as a priority load in the applicable system load shedding and restoration plans.”
The Texas power grid operates independently by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which receives direction from state officials, not the U.S. federal government.
The Texas power grid failed simply because the demand for electricity sky rocketed at a rate in which the power grid couldn’t handle. The sudden spike in demand for electricity was due to usually low Arctic temperatures that swept through the state.
To make matters worse, power-generating infrastructure was not winterized from cold temperatures, resulting in a long list of problems, such as natural gas supply lines and wind turbines freezing.