States want to protect the electrical grid after substation attacks

Policymakers in several states are scrambling to secure the electrical grid after a series of attacks on major substations exposed vulnerabilities in recent months, knocking out thousands of power plants.

Last year, at least four states reported deliberate attacks on power transmission facilities. The worst outage occurred in Moore County, North Carolina, in early December after two substations, with a large number of utility customers serving more than 45,000, were hit by gunfire.

Republican state Rep. Ben Moss, who has introduced legislation to tighten security, told AP that the December attacks had turned his district into a “ghost town.” He added: “When the power goes out, you don’t have heat, you don’t have food, you can’t get fuel or some medicines. The people are safe.”

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CARTHAGE, UNITED STATES – DECEMBER 05: A view of the substation as tens of thousands lost power in Moore County after an attack on two Duke Electric substations on December 05, 2022 in Carthage, NC, USA (Photo by Peter Zai/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images/Getty Images)

By A.P. A version of the utility bill found requires facilities to provide 24-hour security at substations, and security improvements vary by location, as some facilities are fenced and have video surveillance, while others are relatively vulnerable. Moss sees the bill as a “conversation opener” that he hopes will help lawmakers, utilities and security experts identify cost-effective defenses that don’t cost consumers too much.

Last week, North Carolina authorities reported a shooting at a gas station in Randolph County. There was no delay and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating the incident. No arrests have been made in the Moore County or Randolph County substation attacks.

South Carolina has seen at least 12 incidents involving dispensaries in the past year, including one in Moore County, North Carolina, where the FBI responded days after gunshots were heard but the force continued.

North Carolina Power Outage: Federal Memo Flags Washington, Oregon Substation Suffers Similar Attack to Moore County.

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A gate at 6910 NC Hwy 211 in West End, NC, Monday, December 5, 2022, blocked access to the West End Substation, a severe attack on critical infrastructure that caused power outages for many around South Pine, NC. (AP Photo/Carl B. DeBlacker/AP Images)

Utility companies in South Carolina are asking lawmakers to strengthen penalties for destroying electrical infrastructure, and a bill in the state Senate would implement a sliding scale based on damage to the facilities. Under the proposal, damages of more than $25,000 could land the offender in prison for up to 20 years — more than double the current maximum sentence of 10 years. A 25-year sentence will be imposed if anyone dies or suffers physical injury as a result of the attack.

Attacks on power facilities are also rampant in the Pacific Northwest. Facilities in Oregon and Washington They reported 15 physical attacks on electrical utilities in 2022, including 10 in the last two months of the year. A series of attacks on four Puget Sound area substations on Christmas Day left 15,000 utility customers without power.

North Carolina Power Grid Attack Exposes Vulnerabilities, Encourages Other Recent Attacks To Investigate

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Crews work on equipment at the West End substation at 6910 NC Hwy 211 in West End, NC, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022, after a severe attack on critical infrastructure caused power outages for many around South Pine, NC. (AP Photo/Carl B. DeBlacker/AP Images)

Two men in Washington state have been charged with conspiracy to damage power facilities after they attacked four substations dozens of miles apart on Dec. 25, 2022, knocking out power to 15,000 customers in the Puget Sound area. Prosecutors said the motive was to burglarize a local business during a power outage.

The Washington State Office of Energy is looking to make physical and cybersecurity updates to the state’s electricity infrastructure as it implements reforms to the state’s Clean Energy Transition Act.

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No arrests have been made in a deliberate Thanksgiving morning attack on a gas station in Clackamas County, Oregon. The Oregon Public Utilities Commission is working with the utility companies it regulates to increase vigilance and investigate safety improvements at facilities.

Federal energy regulators are also looking to improve the safety of the electric grid. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which oversees America’s massive power system, is expected to issue a report in early April and make recommendations for possible safety improvements.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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