‘A new level of threat.’ Cooper condemns attack on NC power substations

Angelina Katsanis/akatsanis@newsobserver.com

Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday condemned the sabotage of electrical substations in Moore County that left thousands without power as a “criminal attack” and said the incident represented a new kind of threat for officials to deal with.

“Protecting critical infrastructure like our power system must be a top priority. This kind of attack raises a new level of threat,” Cooper said during a press conference Monday afternoon. “We will be evaluating ways to work with our utility providers and state and federal officials to make sure we harden our infrastructure where that’s necessary, and work to prevent future damage.”

Cooper spoke to reporters after meeting with state and local officials who are working on restoring power to tens of thousands of residents and investigating the attack on the two substations that were damaged by gunfire Saturday evening.

Earlier, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a press briefing that the White House was monitoring the situation and would provide local officials with “any assistance needed on the ground to help them.”

At a press conference Sunday, Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said power outages began after 7 p.m. and proceeded to spread across central and southern Moore County. As of midday Monday, more than 33,600 homes and businesses remained without power, The News & Observer reported.

Jeff Brooks, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, said Monday morning the utility company was able to restore power to about 7,000 customers by Sunday night, but that it may take until as long as Thursday to restore power to the majority of customers, as the company tries to replace equipment “that is a little more complex to complete.”

Reactions, updates from NC officials

Officials continued on Monday to provide updates and issue statements on the attack on the substations.

“Violence of any kind is unacceptable, and law enforcement is absolutely dedicated to getting to the bottom of what happened in Moore County,” N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein said in a statement.

Laura Brewer, a spokesperson for Stein, said his office has been in contact with Duke Energy and law enforcement to receive regular updates. Brewer also noted that since the county has declared a state of emergency, the state’s price gouging law is in effect.

“Our office will review any complaints we receive to ensure that people are not being taken advantage of during this time,” Brewer said in an email.

Shelley Lynch, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Charlotte Division, confirmed to McClatchy on Monday that the Charlotte office was investigating the attack on the substations.

“We are in regular contact with local law enforcement and private sector partners. Due to the ongoing investigation, the FBI has no additional comment,” Lynch said.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, who ran for reelection this year in a district that covers Moore County, thanked Fields and local law enforcement, as well as the State Bureau of Investigation and FBI, for their quick response to the incident. On his website, Hudson’s office provided an update with resources, including information about a shelter at the Moore County Sports Complex.

State Rep. Ben Moss, a Republican from Montgomery County who also ran for reelection in a House district that includes Moore County, said the attack was “reprehensible,” adding that the “responsible party needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.”

“Moore County is and will continue to be a wonderful place to live, work, and raise a family, and this criminal act will not change that,” Moss said in a post on Facebook.

In an email, Moss added: “Moving forward, we must have a very serious conversation about securing not only our electric infrastructure, but all other utilities, as well.”

Congressional attention

In recent years, cyber attacks on utilities and other public services have drawn plenty of attention, but state and federal officials have been worried about physical attacks too.

An attack on a substation near San Jose in 2013 prompted a congressional hearing about power grid vulnerabilities. Shooters with an assault rifle fired 150 rounds into the Pacific Gas and Electric substation, CNN reported.

PG&E avoided disruptions by rerouting power, but the repairs took nearly a month.

Later that year, an Arkansas man set fire to a substation, pulled down a power line and damaged an electric tower in a series of attacks in the central part of the state that temporarily left 9,000 people without power. Federal officials said the attacks caused more than $4.5 million in damages.

Jason Woodring, 46, pleaded guilty to federal charges and received a 15-year sentence. He told a judge he saw it as a way to cause an emergency that would bring people together, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

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