States seek to secure electrical grid after substation attacks

States seek to secure electrical grid after substation attacks

Policymakers in several states are trying to finalize power grid security after a series of attacks on substations in recent months exposed vulnerabilities and knocked out power to thousands.

In the past year, at least four states have reported deliberate attacks against electricity transmission facilities. The most significant outage occurred in early December, when a peak of more than 45,000 utility customers in Moore County, North Carolina, were left without power after two substations were attacked with guns.

Republican state Rep. Ben Moss is proposing legislation that would strengthen security and told the AP that the December attacks turned his district into a “ghost town.” He said, “When the power goes out, you don’t have heat, you don’t have food, you can’t get fuel or certain medicines, the people are unsafe.”

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CARTHAGE, USA – DECEMBER 05: A view of the substation and work in progress as thousands are without power in Moore County after an attack on two substations by Duke Electric in Carthage NC, United States of America on December 05, 2022 (Photo by Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images / Getty Images)

A draft of the bill received by the AP would require utilities to provide 24-hour security at substations and security improvements would vary at different sites, as some facilities are gated and have video surveillance and others quite exposed. Moss considers his bill a “conversation opener” and hopes it will help lawmakers, utilities and security experts identify cost-effective protections that won’t result in higher prices for consumers.

Last week, authorities in North Carolina reported an incident involving guns at a substation in Randolph County. No injuries were reported and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is reportedly investigating the incident. No arrests have been made in the Moore County or Randolph County substation attacks.

South Carolina saw at least 12 incidents of intentional damage to substations last year, including one that the FBI responded to days after a Moore County, North Carolina, shooting was reported, but remained the power on.

NORTH CAROLINA POWER RESULT: WASHINGTON FEDERAL MEMORANDUM FLAGS, OREGON ATTACKS AS MOORE COUNTY

substation gates nc

A gate blocks the road leading to the West End Substation, at 6910 NC Hwy 211 in West End, NC, Monday, December 5, 2022, where a serious attack on critical infrastructure has caused power outages for many around Southern Pines, NC. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker/AP Images)

Utility companies in South Carolina are asking lawmakers to impose penalties for destroying electrical infrastructure, and a bill in the state Senate would implement a sliding scale based on the damage done to the facilities. Under the proposal, damages over $25,000 could land a person in prison for up to 20 years – double the current maximum sentence of 10 years. A 25-year sentence would apply if a person dies or their health is damaged due to a break after an attack.

Attacks against electrical facilities were common in the Pacific Northwest. Utilities in Oregon and Washington reported 15 physical attacks on electric facilities in 2022, including 10 in the last two months of the year. A series of attacks on four substations in the Puget Sound area on Christmas Day left 15,000 utility customers without power.

NORTH CAROLINA POWER GRID ATTACK EXPOSES VULNERABILITIES, PROMPTS ANOTHER ATTACK TO BE INVESTIGATED

power outage repairs nc

Workers work on equipment at the West End Substation, at 6910 NC Hwy 211 in West End, NC, Monday, December 5, 2022, where a severe attack on critical infrastructure has caused power outages for many throughout Southern Pines, NC. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker/AP Images)

Two men in Washington state are facing charges of conspiracy to damage energy facilities after they attacked four substations several miles apart on December 25, 2022, knocking out power to 15,000 customers in the Puget Sound area. Prosecutors say the intent was to burglarize an area business while the power was out.

The Washington State Office of Energy is trying to make physical and cybersecurity updates to the state’s electrical infrastructure as it revamps it under the Clean Energy Transformation Act.

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

Federal energy regulators are looking to make improvements to the security of the electric grid. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which oversees America’s bulk power system, is expected to submit a report and make recommendations for potential security improvements by early April.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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