For those who didn’t catch the well-researched article in the Feb. 5 Wall Street Journal, or its summary on Fox News, the electrical power grid may be under direct threat, and not just from cyber attacks.
What the WSJ found from public filings that recently became available is that on April 16, 2013, someone removed a very heavy lid to an underground vault at 1 a.m. near Highway 101 near San Jose and cut communication cables.
Then about at 1:31 a.m., what the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department thinks was a signal from a flashlight was recorded on a surveillance camera pointed across the chain link fence surrounding the Metcalf Substation that serves Silicon Valley. That is followed by the muzzle flash from a rifle shooting at the oil-filled cooling systems of the transformers, knocking out 17 of them as they burned out. Then the flashlight signaled to stop at about 1:50 a.m. When officers arrived a minute later no one was in sight and all that remained were more than 100 shell casings ejected by a possible AK-47. None had fingerprints.
PG&E isn’t talking, but a retired PG&E VP for transmission did say at a security conference that it was not random vandalism, but “was well thought out, well planned and they targeted certain components.”
The then chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission brought with him experts from the training facility for Navy SEALs, who told him it was a professional job, including little piles of rocks that could have been left by an advance scout to point the way to the best shots.
A 2009 Energy Department report said damage to extra-high-voltage transformers could result in “prolonged outages, as procurement cycles for these components range from months to years.”
In this county both the El Dorado Irrigation District and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District have power-generating and transmission facilities. What is needed is surveillance systems. Consolidated Edison in New York has 1,200 security cameras that it has changed the angles on to avoid blind spots, following the Metcalf attack. EID and SMUD need to be sure their key facilities have high-quality cameras pointed not only at their facilities but also in the direction from which anyone might approach a key facility.
This is the sort of threat potential that EID only discusses behind closed doors, as permitted by the Brown Act. We trust — we hope — these two agencies take appropriate action to increase security in light of the attack on the Metcalf Power Station. This sort of action might also include backup replacement equipment stored at another location.