Wellinghoff Nailed it: PG&E Substation Attack is Terrorism

In last month’s “From the Editor,” I wrote about the controversy surrounding former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff’s comments in The Wall Street Journal regarding the 2013 attack on Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E’s) Metcalf substation. Wellinghoff called the attack an act of terrorism.

In April, I attended the 2014 IEEE PES T&D Conference & Exposition in Chicago and a panel discussion on how utilities are protecting substations and critical infrastructure from physical attack. PG&E Vice President of Electric Transmission Operations Gregg Lemler talked about the attack.

Metcalf, he said, is a critical PG&E substation that serves customers that use a lot of electricity in San Jose and Silicon Valley, including Google and Facebook. Lemler said that at 1 a.m. April 16, 2013, fiber cables in the AT&T vault were cut. Ten minutes later, more fiber cables were cut. The utility didn’t lose SCADA or visibility to substations, but it did lose 911 and cellular service. Shortly after the cables were cut, more than 120 rounds of ammunition were shot into the substation from outside the fence. Seventeen transformers were damaged. Thanks to the California ISO and PG&E grid operators, no customers lost power.

Video cameras show muzzle flashes’ and bullets’ hitting the fence, but the shooters aren’t visible; the cameras were pointed only into the substation. PG&E has put temporary security in place, including: around-the-clock security guards; third-party consultants to assess vulnerability at Metcalf and all its substations; and more lighting. The utility expects to spend $100 million on security in the next three years. PG&E plans also include: installing opaque security fencing plus lights inside and outside the substation; removing vegetation; continuing with on-site security; and building ballistic walls around critical equipment.

PG&E is working to ensure the grid is resilient and redundant where needed. In addition, it is participating in the Spare Transformer Equipment Program. Lemler said PG&E and law enforcement have had no luck finding the shooters, but PG&E recently announced a $200,000 reward.

After hearing more details about the Metcalf attack, I agree with Wellinghoff. The attack was too well-orchestrated to be carried out by amateurs and should be treated as terrorism. Unfortunately, we share our world and communities with people who want to disrupt our lives. Protecting substations and critical infrastructure from physical attack has become a high priority for utilities, regulators, federal agencies and local, state and federal governments. As I wrote last month, utilities are treating physical infrastructure protection as another critical issue they deal with every day. PG&E is proving me right.

TERESA HANSEN   Editor in chief
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