SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — PG&E announced Thursday a $250,000 reward for the capture and conviction of suspects responsible for damaging a substation near San Jose last year by using sniper rifles to knock out 17 transformers.
Nearly a year has passed since the April 16, 2013, attack on the Metcalf Transmission Substation, but investigators have released few new details since then as to who may have committed the attack or what their motives might have been.
The attack caused more than $15 million in damage.
In addition to shooting out the transformers, the vandals cut fiber-optic phone lines operated by AT&T, knocking out phone service for some customers in Gilroy and Morgan Hill for about 24 hours starting at about 1:30 a.m. that day.
AT&T announced a $250,000 reward a day after the incident, which Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith called an act of “sabotage” and a former energy official called “terrorism,” but PG&E announced no reward until Thursday morning.
PG&E transmission operations vice president Gregg Lemler said Thursday that the utility has been focused on improving security and redundancy at its substations and only recently was approached by law enforcement about offering a reward.
Lemler said PG&E intends to spend approximately $100 million over the next three years on new physical security features at several of its 900-plus substations and will install enhanced intruder detection systems and buffer zones with improved fencing compared to the chain link fence that was breached at Metcalf.
The utility will also improve reliability at critical substations, including installing new equipment to swiftly restore power and new transmission lines, he said.
The utility has also been deploying more security guards and increased patrols by local law enforcement, cutting back brush that might provide hiding places for saboteurs, and adding surveillance cameras and better lighting, Lemler said.
Jim Fama, vice president of energy delivery at Edison Electric Institute, a coordinating association for investor-owned electric companies, said Thursday that Edison is working closely with PG&E and federal regulators to identify and prepare for any potential threats.
Edison can coordinate crews and equipment from different agencies in the event of an emergency, such as when it sent 67,000 restoration workers to the Eastern Seaboard in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Fama said.
He said that PG&E participated in an emergency drill last year to prepare for not just physical attacks but cyber attacks as well.
For the past year, PG&E has been working to determine its most critical stations and develop plans to protect them that are vetted by third parties and audited by federal regulators, Fama said.
The lack of any loss of power following the Metcalf substation attack was what Lemler called it an “affirmation” of the resiliency of the grid and he said that the utility is “well-equipped” to deal with any attack.
Officials at Thursday’s news conference declined to discuss the status of the investigation into the Metcalf attack.
While Lemler said he has had no direct contact with the FBI regarding its ongoing investigation, he said the agency “is doing a fabulous job.”
The FBI is asking anyone with information about the case to contact federal investigators at 415-553-7400.
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