FBI investigating if EnergyUnited substation shooting is tied to earlier NC attacks

RANDOLPH COUNTY, N.C. — Someone shot into an electrical substation Tuesday morning near Thomasville in Randolph County, according to officials with EnergyUnited. Now, the FBI says it’s investigating whether that shooting is linked to an earlier attack in Moore County.

Officials responded Tuesday to an alarm indicating an equipment issue at its Pleasant Hill substation.

Crews found gunfire damage to one of the transformers. Channel 9′s Dave Faherty learned that substation was offline Wednesday because of the shooting, which caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage.

The company said it notified law enforcement, and said though the substation was offline, none of its customers lost power. The company said it rerouted power though another substation in order for that to happen.

“EnergyUnited continually strives to deliver safe, reliable energy to its members,” said Steve McCachern, vice president of energy delivery, in a news release. “While we are glad that our members did not experience any service interruptions, we take this matter very seriously and are currently investigating the incident.”

Howard Adams and his wife were up around 3 a.m. when they say they heard the sound of gunfire coming from the station, which is across the street from them.

“We heard six shots at a rapid fire. It sounded like a pistol,” he said. “We’re used to shots in this area going off on rifles. It just seemed different with a rapid fire.”

When Faherty arrived Wednesday morning, EnergyUnited crews had begun to work on repairs. He could see the damage up close from the roadway, and workers said law enforcement left evidence markers feet away.

The Statesville-based EnergyUnited Electric Membership Corporation serves customers in parts of 19 North Carolina counties. McCachern told Faherty there are more than 1,500 customers there.

There isn’t information yet about whether the shooting was intentional, but Faherty talked to EnergyUnited workers about their concerns someone could get hurt.

“We just want to make sure people understand -- this is dangerous. You’re creating a hazard,” McCachern said. “Obviously, there are people out in the community whose lives depend upon electricity. They have health support equipment, medical equipment that depends on electricity.”

The FBI is offering up to $25,000 for information that could lead to an arrest and conviction in the case.

Why is this happening more often?

Data from the Department of Energy show power grid attacks are at their highest levels since 2012. Channel 9′s Madison Carter found the attacks are on the rise simply because they’re easy to pull off.

It’s not proprietary information: There are maps online showing where every substation is across the country. Carter discovered anyone can see their exact locations, who owns the stations, what areas they serve, and in some cases, what kind of security protections are in place.

Jon Wellinghoff used to lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He said a flaw in grid security oversight has been allowing energy companies to set their own security standards.

“There’s no prescriptive standards,” Wellinghoff said. “It doesn’t say you have to build a wall, you have to put in so many sensors, or lights, or other things to thwart these kinds of attacks. Utility can decide what the plan looks like.”

Carter was told security upgrades are in place in light of the attacks on the grid, and is currently investigating how effective those upgrades are.

The FBI is still investigating the attack on two substations in Moore County last month. Police said the substations were intentionally shot into in December. More than 45,000 customers lost power and it took nearly a week to get the power fully restored.

EnergyUnited said it has reviewed and increased security at its substations since last month.

The repairs are expected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it could take days to get the substation back online, crews told Faherty.

VIDEO: ‘Intentional vandalism’ leaves 38,000 customers without power in Moore County, sheriff’s office says

Madison Carter

Madison Carter, wsoctv.com

Madison is an investigative reporter and anchor for Channel 9.