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Extremists increasingly targeting US power grid, resulting in destruction and blackouts

By Sarah May
|
December 30, 2022

Questions and concerns continue to grow around a spate of attacks on the U.S. power grid that have left experts wondering whether the alarming events are the work of isolated vandals or more organized extremists with a broader strategy of destabilization in mind, as Politico reports.

Materializing in an array of locations around the country, the recent surge represents a 10-year high in attempts to undermine the crucial infrastructure on which all Americans rely.

Attacks reach record high

Politico conducted an examination of federal records documenting attacks on the country's electrical grid and noted that through August, 101 such events had taken place, surpassing the 2021 tally of 97 incidents of this nature and reaching the highest point since 2012.

The outlet emphasized that the surveyed records did not include the shootings that occurred at two Duke Energy substations in Moore County, North Carolina that left 45,000 customers in the dark, as Fox News reported.

Notably, 14,000 customers in Washington state also went without power on Christmas Day following an act of vandalism or assault on four substations operated by Tacoma Public Utilities and Puget Sound Energy, the latest in a string of similar incidents there and in Oregon dating back to mid-November.

As is still the case in the North Carolina attacks, the Pierce County [Washington] Sheriff's Department said on Sunday, “It is unknown if there are any motives or if this was a coordinated attack on the power systems.”

Answers remain elusive

A report in the U.K. Guardian noted that the power grid disruptions in the Pacific Northwest region bear substantial similarities to those in North Carolina, in that they were characterized by the use of firearms to damage critical equipment.

No suspects or motives have been identified in the incidents, either, but the attacks have prompted very real concerns about the lingering vulnerabilities of America's power grid to those bent on crippling it.

As Politico noted, regulators in D.C. are keeping a close eye on the situation, with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Richard Glick saying last week, “Are there people planning this?...I don't think anyone knows that right now. But there's no doubt that the numbers are up in terms of reported incidents.”

Indeed, three days prior to the North Carolina attack, the Department of Homeland Security had issued a bulletin cautioning about “lone offenders and small groups” that may be in the process of planning disruptive activity and that infrastructure installations could be targeted, as ABC News noted.

That warning came on the heels of another bulletin issued earlier this year suggesting that domestic extremist groups had been formulating “credible, specific plans” to undermine the electrical grid for several years.

Vulnerabilities exposed

Experts are increasingly sounding the alarm about the lax security surrounding much of the nation's infrastructure, particularly its electric substations in regions across the country – especially those situated in more remote locales.

Fox News quoted Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Heritage Foundation's Center for Energy, Climate and Environment, who said of the substations, “These are very lightly guarded. You can drive past these things, and anyone can not just shoot at a couple of things but launch something in it, and we really need to pay greater attention to this.”

Furchtgott-Roth continued, “It's very easy to get close them them, go up to them in the middle of the night, throw something on it, cause arson by pouring gasoline and setting it on fire. These are very, very vulnerable. We need to do something about it.”

The Manhattan Institute's Mark Mills told the outlet that the country needs to “focus a lot more” on the physical security of infrastructure sites, suggesting the use of concrete barriers, cameras, and sensors of the type used to protect government buildings.

In Mills' estimation, a coordinated, deliberate plot from a terrorist group against key substations has the potential to “do far more” to put Americans in the dark than “any other single thing that could be done.”

Priorities questioned

With information about suspects and specific motivations still elusive, experts such as Mills believe it is time for a refocusing of priorities in order to safeguard the grid, suggesting that the “powers that be” should abandon their laser focus on “pushing green energy and spending money on that” and pay more attention to bolstering fundamental grid security.

“Security is simply not as sexy,” Mills told Fox News Digital. “It's like insurance. Nobody cares until something happens,” and in light of recent events, he asserts, the time for decisive action has arguably arrived.