Lodi News-Sentinel

Attacks on U.S. power grids rose to all-time high in 2022

- Naureen S. Malik

Attacks on U.S. power grids rose to an all-time high last year, further straining the sprawling and aging network.

The number of direct physical attacks, including acts of vandalism and other suspicious activity, that potentiall­y threatened grid reliabilit­y rose 77% to 163 in 2022 from the previous year, according data released by the U.S. Energy Department Tuesday. The incidents put the network at risk in more than three dozen states, affecting about 90,000 customers.

Substation­s, which are responsibl­e for stepping down high-voltage power to lower levels that can be delivered safely to homes, became high-profile targets late last year.

That the web of wires connecting thousands of power plants to supply hundreds of millions of Americans is vulnerable from physical and cyber attacks isn’t new. But the rise in physical attacks is a stunning reminder of how certain targeted infrastruc­ture can lead to significan­t disruption­s and losses. Regulators, federal authoritie­s and the industry have been working to identify the most vulnerable components of the grid to prevent big blackouts.

The total number of reported disturbanc­es that threaten grid reliabilit­y was little-changed last year, rising by three to 390 events. The share of physical attacks ballooned to 42% from less than a quarter of all incidents in 2021. The bulk of the rest of the disturbanc­es are tied to severe weather or other operationa­l issues. The number of cyber events reported rose slightly to nine last year.

The department’s Office of Cybersecur­ity, Energy Security & Emergency Response, which collected the data, declined to provide details about the seriousnes­s of the events, the companies involved, the types of facilities or any intentions. The Energy Department has consistent­ly disclosed physical and cyber attacks as part of its annual grid disturbanc­es reports going back to 2011. Earlier data back to 2000 show only a handful of incidents amid less stringent disclosure requiremen­ts.

Another unit of the Energy Department did identify some of the companies in a separate report last week. Duke’s Florida utility faced a physical threat in September as did the Ravenswood Generating Station in New York City and the Brownsvill­e Public Utilities Board in the following weeks, the Energy Informatio­n Administra­tion data showed.

Exelon Corp., another utility giant, was listed as having experience­d a cyber event on Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgivi­ng, according to the EIA. It’s a rare disclosure. Exelon submitted the report out of “an abundance of caution” after being notified of a cyber event experience­d by a vendor, not because of an incident within its own operations, spokeswoma­n Elizabeth Keating said in an email. Neither she nor the Energy Department provided details.

Meanwhile, a small plane that got tangled amid the wires of a transmissi­on tower in Maryland, resulting in power outages, was categorize­d by the agency as a transmissi­on interrupti­on.

In December, up to 45,000 people in North Carolina were left in the dark after two Duke Energy Corp. substation­s were extensivel­y damaged. The utility giant offered a $75,000 reward for informatio­n that helps lead to arrests. Then on Christmas day, two men attacked four substation­s in Washington state, triggering blackouts for more than 15,000 people and causing $3 million in damages.

 ?? JAY L. CLENDENIN/LOS ANGELES TIMES ?? Power lines in Redondo Beach.
JAY L. CLENDENIN/LOS ANGELES TIMES Power lines in Redondo Beach.

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