Lawmakers look to beef up power grid security following attack in Moore County last year

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Friday, June 16, 2023
Lawmakers look to beef up power grid security
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More than six months after attacks on Moore County substations left thousands without power, a Congressional committee held a field hearing.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- More than six months after attacks on Moore County substations left thousands without power, a Congressional committee held a field hearing in Pinehurst on Friday morning.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee visited the substation targeted by gunfire in December prior to holding a public hearing.

"There are 45,000 stories of why Moore County needs greater grid resilience," said Congressman Richard Hudson, who represents the Sandhills, during his opening remarks.

SEE ALSO | North Carolina legislature increases penalty for utility damage after substation shootings

Hudson was one of the 45,000 customers impacted by outages which stretched for some nearly a week.

"Our hospitals were impacted, threatening medical treatments, schools were shut down, businesses were affected, stop lights were dark, gas stations were closed, cell signal was impacted, water couldn't be heated," said Hudson.

Hudson described the attack, in which nobody has been arrested, as "sophisticated," and Moore County Sheriff previously called the gunfire as "targeted" and "intentional."

"Is this a domestic terror incident, is this a foreign actor probing us or is this a disgruntled employee of Duke Energy? Is it something else? These are disturbing questions that haven't been answered," said Hudson.

Lawmakers on the Committee questioned Duke Energy's actions and steps they're taking to prevent future attacks.

"This starts with tiering substations, with both their criticality to the bulk electric system but also to those where there's customer impact. When I say customer impact, I'm talking about those substations where we can't re-route power," said Mark Aysta, Managing Director of Enterprise Security at Duke Energy. That was the case in Moore County, and was a large reason why power was out for a prolonged period of time.

Another reason: an inability to access parts.

"The industry works together to share equipment and they have spares and redundancy. But certainly in a widespread attack, you're going to face challenges. Some of these specialized equipment like you saw today at West End, they're long-lead time items to replace. And they're specialized and specific for the type of substation that they're being plugged into it. That's why supply chain is moved to number one on our list," said Tim Ponseti, Vice President of Operations at SERC Reliability Corporation.

"We're also improving our processes and rapid response protocols for essential equipment and personnel. We've identified critical parts with long lead times that may be needed for repairs to essential equipment. And we're working to strategically locate those parts for rapid deployments," said Aysta.

"Do we need to look at some kind of public private partnership with the federal government to stockpile parts? Do we need to as a government require private industry to do more? We certainly need to look at the economic drivers. Why don't we make these kinds of things in America," said Hudson.

WATCH: Moore County residents find ways to cope with prolonged power outage

Duke Energy touted a planned $75 billion investment over the next decade in grid improvements.

"We firmly believe grid resiliency must be a part of the conversation. The same self-healing technology that can detect outages from storms, isolate problems and re-route power for customers, can also mitigate the impact of an attack on the grid," said Aysta, who further shared they increased monitoring capabilities at the Moore County substations and "embarked on a plan to train" of chief law enforcement officers on threats to the grid.

Hudson said he wanted the first field hearing to be in Moore County, to allow lawmakers to view the substation targeted in the attack. He added there would be further hearings on the matter.

The FBI is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in connection with this case.