Lawmakers in several states are seeking to bolster the security of the power grid after a series of attacks on substations in recent months exposed vulnerabilities and left thousands of people without power.
Over the past year, at least four states have reported deliberate attacks on electrical transmission facilities. The most significant outage occurred in early December, when a spike of more than 45,000 utility customers in Moore County, North Carolina, lost power after two substations came under fire.
Republican state Rep. Ben Moss is proposing legislation that would strengthen security, telling the AP that the December attacks turned his district into “a ghost town.” He added: “When the power goes out, you don’t have heating, you don’t have food, you can’t get fuel or some medicine, people aren’t safe.”
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A draft version of the bill obtained by AP would require utility companies to provide 24-hour security at substations, and security enhancements would vary at different sites, as some facilities are closed and have video surveillance while others are relatively exposed. . Moss calls his bill “a conversation starter” that he hopes will help lawmakers, utility and security experts identify cost-effective defenses that don’t result in higher prices for consumers.
Last week, North Carolina authorities reported a shooting-related incident at a substation in Randolph County. No outages were reported, and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is reportedly investigating the incident. No arrests have been made in the attacks on the Moore County or Randolph County substations.
South Carolina saw at least 12 incidents involving intentional damage to substations last year, including an incident the FBI responded to days later in Moore County, North Carolina, in which gunshots were reported but power remained on.
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South Carolina utilities are asking lawmakers to toughen penalties for destroying electrical infrastructure, and a bill in the state Senate would implement a sliding scale based on damage to facilities. Under the proposal, damages in excess of $25,000 could land the perpetrator up to 20 years in prison, double the current maximum sentence of 10 years. A 25-year sentence would apply if someone died or his health was damaged by a blackout after an attack.
Attacks against electrical facilities have also been frequent in the Pacific Northwest. Utilities in Oregon and Washington reported 15 physical attacks on power facilities 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.
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Two men in Washington state are facing charges of conspiring to damage power facilities after they attacked four substations tens of miles apart on December 25, 2022, knocking out power to 15,000 customers in the Puget Sound area. Prosecutors say the motive was to commit a robbery at an area business while the power was out.
The Washington State Office of Energy is looking to make physical and cybersecurity upgrades to the state’s electrical infrastructure as it undergoes a review under the state’s Clean Energy Transformation Act.
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No arrests have been made in the deliberate attack on a substation in Clackamas County, Oregon, that occurred on Thanksgiving morning. The Oregon Public Utilities Commission is working with the utilities it regulates to increase surveillance and explore security improvements at facilities.
Federal energy regulators also seek to improve the safety 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 on potential safety improvements in early April.
Associated Press contributed to this report.