RALEIGH, N.C. — When gunshots at two electrical substations cut power to thousands of central North Carolina homes for several days in early December, Republican state Rep. Ben Moss watched his vibrant district full of family farms, small businesses and sprawling golf courses become “a ghost town.”
After the latest attack last week on a substation in Randolph County, northeast of Charlotte, Moss is urging fellow lawmakers to prioritize new legislation that would secure the state’s critical infrastructure when the legislative session begins in earnest this week. He’s among the first state legislators to propose power grid protections this year amid a surge in attacks on U.S. substations, primarily in the Carolinas and Pacific Northwest.
The recent attacks in Moore County, North Carolina, and others in Washington, Oregon, South Carolina and Nevada, have underscored the vulnerability of the nation’s far-flung electrical grid, which security experts have long warned could be a target for domestic extremists.
Lawmakers in at least two affected states — North Carolina and South Carolina — have begun proposing remedies.
“I don’t want to see anybody else go through what Moore (County) did,” said Moss, a 2024 candidate for state labor commissioner whose district saw a peak of more than 45,000 customers lose power. “When the power goes out, you don’t have heat, don’t have food, can’t get fuel or some medications, the people are unsafe.”
Moss is drafting legislation hat would require utilities to provide 24-hour security at substations, which transform high-voltage electricity into the lower voltages that power communities.
He considers the bill “a conversation opener” between lawmakers, utilities and security experts to help the General Assembly identify cost-effective defenses that wouldn’t drive up consumer prices.
His call for increased surveillance comes as questions linger about the Moore County shootings.
The FBI is still seeking information and no arrests have been made.
Federal regulators in December ordered a review of physical security standards across the nation’s vast electricity transmission network following the attacks in North Carolina. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which oversees the nation’s bulk power system, has until early April to submit a report and recommend improvements.
A South Carolina Senate proposal would set a sliding scale based on how much damage is done — if it costs more than $25,000 to fix equipment and cover losses, the perpetrator could face up to 20 years in prison, double the current 10-year maximum.
A maximum 25-year penalty would apply if anyone died or their health was endangered by a resulting outage.
Dominion Energy South Carolina President Keller Kissam said the state saw at least 12 incidents of people intentionally damaging equipment last year.
“You want to demoralize people, you put them in the dark,” he said.