- Deseret News reported last month that someone with a high-powered rifle fired several shots and successfully disabled a substation owned by Garkane Energy Cooperative, leading to a day-long power outage for about 13,000 Utah residents.
- The co-op offered up to $50,000 for information leading to a reward; the damage will take months to repair and could cost up to $1 million.
- The incident, reminiscent of an attack on a Pacific Gas and Electric substation in 2013, is a reminder that large portions of the United States' grid remain vulnerable to attack, potentially from either cyber intrusions or being physically disabled.
While much of grid security concern is now focused on the potential for a blackout-inducing cyberattack, the events in Utah are a reminder that physical vulnerabilities are prevalent and a larger blackout is still possible.
Navigant energy director Brian Harrell spoke with EnergyWire about the attack, saying "electric infrastructure continues to be vulnerable to firearms attack ... we must assume that at some point in the future a North American utility will suffer from a planned and coordinated attack against electrical infrastructure."
Three years ago, a PG&E was targeted in a sniper attack that disabled 17 transformers. The utility responded with a $100 million security spending plan, and federal security protocols have been upgraded. But the span of the grid makes protecting infrastructure difficult.
By contrast, Garkane serves six counties in South-Central Utah and two counties in North-Central Arizona, a largely rural area. The co-op also serves four national parks, and private lands encompass only about 10% of its service territory of 16,000 square miles.
The attack on Garkane succeeded when bullets disabled the transformer's oil-cooled radiator.
Recently, grid security has been focused on cybersecurity. Lloyd's of London last year issued a report finding a widespread attack on the United States grid could lead to a total economic loss ranging from $243 billion up to $1 trillion in the most damaging scenarios. A series of cyberattacks in Ukraine caused widespread blackouts, underscoring the worries from utility officials and lawmakers. In some good news, FirstEnergy successfully fended off hacker intrusions last year.