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    'It's getting scary.' Lawmakers, Duke Energy look to protect substations with increased security

    January 30, 2023 - JOHN DEEM


      Duke Energy says it's ready to work with North Carolina legislators as they refine a bill filed last week in response to three shooting incidents at electric substations in the state over the past two months.

      "We look forward to participating in the conversation around how to deter attacks on the electric grid as we work to continually enhance protections for our infrastructure," Duke spokesman Jeff Brooks said in an email.

      The most disruptive of the attacks occurred at Duke facilities in Moore County on Dec. 3 when two electric substations were damaged by gunfire, leaving about 45,000 customers without power during a cold snap that sent temperatures below freezing.

      Most of those left in the cold and dark live in the N.C. House district represented by Republican Ben Moss, who said watching his constituents struggle during the outage inspired him to introduce a bill that would require utilities in the state to operate security systems at substations 24 hours per day.

      "Moore County seemed like a ghost town for four to five days," Moss said in a phone interview Thursday. "We saw people with small businesses that lost a lot of revenue. You had people who couldn't heat their homes and couldn't cook their meals. Their everyday life was interrupted because we couldn't really depend on our energy grid."

      Moss added that he not only welcomed Duke's involvement developing the legislation, but expected that kind of collaboration.

      "I want everybody at the table," he explained. "I want the utilities there. I want security experts. I want other legislators there. There's ways we can work together and secure that grid a little better."

      Moss added that his proposed Energy Security Act of 2023, just two sentences long at this point, is intentionally sparse because it's meant to be a conversation starter.

      "We live in an era now where you can do so much with cameras, sound detectors, motion detectors, more lighting," he explained. "And don't get me wrong, some substations need more protection than others."

      Some prospective measures to protect those facilities, like bullet-resistant barriers, would be costly, Moss added.

      "But we know how expensive it is to not have those measures in place because we've seen what happened and we've seen how disruptive it was," he said. "And in all honesty, we don't know how much it cost Duke Energy" to repair and restart the damaged substations.

      Brooks, the Duke Energy spokesman, declined to discuss specifics about the protective measures the Charlotte-based company employs now at its substation.

      "But we incorporate multiple levels of security across our entire grid that includes physical and cyber protections, grid monitoring and a dedicated security team," he said. "And we are working to make the grid smarter to expand those capabilities."

      Duke operates hundreds of substations in North Carolina and South Carolina, including more than 100 in the Triad, Brooks added.

      Third attack

      In a similar incident Jan. 17, EnergyUnited crews responding to an alarm found that a substation transformer in Thomasville had been damaged by gunfire.

      There were no outages tied to that incident, EnergyUnited said.

      Other recent substation attacks have been reported in Washington, Oregon, South Carolina and Nevada.

      "It's nationwide now," Moss noted. "More and more people are doing this, and it's getting scary."

      It appears the legislation will have at least some bipartisan support in the N.C. House.

      Rep. Terry Brown Jr., a Democrat from Mecklenburg County and member of the House Energy and Public Utilities Committee, told N.C. Policy Watch that he'd spoken with representatives from Charlotte-based Duke Energy.

      "It's still in the early stages," Brown told the online publication. "But I think we should work with Duke, that it needs to be some type of collaboration."

      Duke isn't necessarily waiting on legislation requiring it to beef up protection, said Brooks, the company spokesman.

      "Our security strategy is always evolving, and we use every event to improve that process and better serve customers," he said. "The last several weeks we have been reviewing the events that occurred in Moore County, as well as our system as a whole, to capture best practices and other information to inform our security and resiliency strategy going forward. This important work is ongoing."

      Investigators have not publicly revealed a motive for the substation attacks or identified suspects.


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