The attack on a Pacific northwest power plant raised concerns for the US power grid

The series of attacks came after an attack on a North Carolina facility cut power to 40,000

A series of attacks on power facilities in Oregon and Washington have caused alarm and highlighted the vulnerabilities of the US power grid.

The attack in the Pacific northwest comes just days after a similar attack on a North Carolina power plant cut power to 40,000 people.

As first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting and KUOW Public Radio, there were at least six attacks, several of which involved firearms and caused residents to lose power. Two of the attacks have similarities to an incident in Moore County, North Carolina, in which two stations were hit by gunfire. Authorities have not disclosed a motive for the North Carolina attack.

The four Pacific northwest utilities whose equipment was attacked said they were cooperating with the FBI. The agency has yet to confirm whether it is investigating the incident. It is not known who was behind the attack, but experts have long warned of discussions among extremists about disruption to the country's power grid. The Bonneville Electric Power Administration (BPA) said in a statement on Thursday that it was seeking tips regarding "misconduct, vandalism and dangerous damage to equipment" at a substation in the Clackamas area on November 24 that caused damage and required a costly cleanup. costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Someone clearly wants to damage the equipment and, possibly, cause a power outage," said John Lahti, vice president of the utility's transmission field services. "We were lucky to avoid interruption of the power supply, which would have endangered public safety, increased financial losses and presented a challenge to the public on holidays."

Any attack on power infrastructure "has the potential to jeopardize the safety of the public and our workers", said BPA, which distributes hydropower across the northwest Pacific.

Portland General Electric, the public utility that provides electricity to nearly half the state's population, said it had begun repairs after suffering a "deliberate physical attack on one of our substations" that also occurred in the Clackamas area in late November 2022. It said it was "actively working same" with the FBI.

Puget Sound Energy, an energy utility in Washington, reported two cases of vandalism at two substations in late November to the FBI and utility associates, but said the incidents did not appear to be related to the recent attacks. “There is no indication that this vandalism effort represents a greater risk to our operations and we have extensive measures in place to monitor, protect and minimize risks to our equipment and infrastructure,” the company said in a statement.

Intelligence experts and analysts have long warned about the vulnerabilities of the US power grid and talk among extremists of attacking critical infrastructure.

"It's very vulnerable," said Keith Taylor, a professor at the University of California, Davis, who has worked with energy utilities. "[This attack] is a real threat."

The physical risks to power grids have been known for decades, Granger Morgan, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told CBS. "We've made some progress, but the system is still quite vulnerable," he said.

A US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report released in January warned that domestic extremists had developed "specific credible plans" to attack power infrastructure since at least 2020.

DHS has cited a document shared on a Telegram channel used by extremists that includes white supremacist guidelines for attacking power lines with firearms, CNN reports.

"The fringes have been talking about this for a long time," Taylor said. "I'm not at all surprised this happened - I'm surprised it's taken this long."

Three men identified by law enforcement as members of the Boogaloo movement allegedly planned to attack a Nevada substation in 2020 to distract police and attempt to incite riots.

In 2013, still unknown attackers cut fiber-optic phone lines and used snipers to open fire on a Pacific Gas & Power substation near San Jose in an apparently carefully planned attack that caused multi-million-dollar damage. The attack prompted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Ferc) to order network operators to beef up security.

“They know what they're doing. They have a specific purpose. They want to take down the substation," Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of Ferc at the time, told 60 Minutes, adding that the attack could "destroy the whole of Silicon Valley".

After the 2013 attacks in California, Ferc's analysis found that attackers could cause coast-to-coast power outages if they disabled just nine of the US's 55,000 substations.

The US power grid is vast with 450,000 miles of transmission lines, 55,000 substations and 6,400 power plants. Power stations and substations are scattered in every corner of the country, connected by transmission lines that carry electricity through farmland, forests, and swamps. Attackers don't have to get close to cause significant damage.

“In a centralized system, if I [want] to take a coal-fired power plant, I don't even have to unplug the plant, I just have to unplug the transmission line,” Taylor said. "You can cause a ripple effect where one outage can cause an entire coastal area to go down." This article was written by EDUKASI CAMPUS. 

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