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Atlantic City Electric Says Safety of Energy Grid a “Constant Priority”

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By Vince Conti

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – National news sources reported on the evening of Dec. 3 the lights went out for much of Moore County, North Carolina. The county’s regional acute care hospital suddenly went to generator power. As one resident described it, “someone flipped a switch.” No warning, no flicker of the lights. One moment the electricity flowed and the next it stopped.
Likewise, news sources reported that in nearby Southern Pines a Downtown Diva’s drag show was interrupted, causing the audience to use cell phone flashlights to coax one more song before the performance was forced to end. The show, sponsored by a local LBGTQ+ community organization is being considered as one of the events that might have triggered the perpetrators of an armed attack on two electrical substations with high-powered rifles.
In many ways Moore County is similar to Cape May County. It has a permanent population of just under 100,000, is known as a prime retirement location, and its population is served by a single acute care hospital. Moore County is located in what is known as the sandhills, an area of North Carolina that sits between the western Piedmont region and the Atlantic Coastal Plain. It is probably best known as a prime destination for avid golfers with the historic Pinehurst Golf Resort in the county.
Why Moore County was the location for an attack on the electric grid remains under investigation. Could something similar happen in Cape May County? There is no reason to think we are a more obscure or a less attractive targeted. The lack of big city presence in a somewhat sleepy retirement destination off the coastal plain in North Carolina shows the lack of size and central location provides no guarantee of immunity from such vandalism.
According to an Atlantic City Electric (ACE) spokesperson, similar to Duke Energy in Moore County, ACE implements physical security measures at its substation barriers to make it difficult but not impossible for intruders to gain access to the equipment. In the case of North Carolina, these barriers were breached by individuals “who knew what they were doing,” an assessment from the Moore County Sheriff’s Department based on the precise areas of damage inflicted on the substation.
ACE maintains an Emergency Response Organization which regularly drills for quick response to evolving threats. The utility says it is “in regular contact with numerous state and local security agencies and other key stakeholders to stay updated on any potential threats so that we are able to respond safely and as quickly as possible.”
One factor that makes attacks like that in Moore County easier for perpetrators is an internet that has become a source for those who wish to conduct such an infrastructure strike. A similar 2013 assault on a substation in California did not result in a widespread outage. In Moore County the attack involved two substations 10 miles apart with greater likelihood of a significant disruption to power distribution.
According to Utility Dive, an electrical industry website, “Sabotage happens all the time at substations.” The North American Electric Reliability Corporation has developed critical infrastructure protection protocols (CIP). Utility Drive said it is not immediately clear if the substations attacked in North Carolina fell under those rules; however, enhanced electrical grid protection could be a very expensive proposition, the cost of which would be borne by ratepayers.

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