Dive Brief:

  • Duke Energy is continuing repair efforts following a weekend firearms attack on two substations in Moore County, North Carolina, and now expects all customers to have power restored by the end of Wednesday, utility spokesperson Jeff Brooks said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference.
  • Duke has restored power to about 10,000 customers but 35,000 are still without service. Some damaged equipment was repaired in place while other components must be replaced, Brooks said.
  • Moore County Chief Deputy Richard Maness said investigators have set up a tip line which has been “very, very active,” but there were no major developments to report. State and local investigators, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are assisting with the case.

Dive Insight:

Duke repair crews “made very good progress” on Tuesday, and now expect to fully restore power about 24 hours ahead of previous estimates, Brooks said.

Full recovery is expected in phases as Duke moves new equipment into place, calibrates and tests components, and then synchronizes them with the electric grid. “It is a very complex process,” Brooks said. “You will see waves of customers coming on, a few thousand at a time, so that we can safely restore power to the grid.”

Duke has not provided specifics on the equipment, but Brooks said there were several pieces damaged in the attacks.

“We are pursuing multiple repair paths,” he said in an email. “Some equipment was able to be repaired in place, and other equipment was damaged beyond repair and needed to be replaced. We have brought in the necessary equipment, including some mobile substation equipment, and have been working to install that equipment around the clock.”

The attack also caused more than 2,600 outages on the Randolph Electric Membership Corp. system. By Tuesday evening, the cooperative said it had constructed two tie-in lines that allowed it to rotate “a limited power supply among Moore County members.”

Outages began occurring in Moore County communities just after 7 p.m. on Saturday, according to the Moore County Sheriff’s Office.

The industry-led Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council, which acts as a liaison for federal officials and the electric power industry, said it met Monday “to ensure a unified response across the highest levels of industry and government.”

ESCC said officials involved in that meeting included: U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary David Turk, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Executive Director Brandon Wales, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Richard Glick, National Security Council Deputy Homeland Security Advisor for Resilience and Response Caitlin Durkovich, and senior officials from the FBI.

Grid security experts say substation vandalism, including by gunshot, is a common occurrence and difficult to guard against due to the often remote nature of the equipment. However, a single equipment failure should not result in an outage due to redundancies built into the grid, they say. 

The fact that a widespread outage occurred in North Carolina indicates it was “a planned, targeted attack involving multiple substations,” Kevin Perry, former director of critical infrastructure protection at Southwest Power Pool, said in an email.