Attack On California Power Substation Just A ‘Dress Rehearsal’?

Speaking of the fragile U.S. power grid this morning, I’ve been itching to discuss the following incident that took place in April and which I’ve been hearing more about as time goes on. Shane Harris reported on the Foreign Policy website back on December 27:

Around 1:00 AM on April 16, at least one individual (possibly two) entered two different manholes at the PG&E Metcalf power substation, southeast of San Jose, and cut fiber cables in the area around the substation. That knocked out some local 911 services, landline service to the substation, and cell phone service in the area, a senior U.S. intelligence official told Foreign Policy. The intruder(s) then fired more than 100 rounds from what two officials described as a high-powered rifle at several transformers in the facility. Ten transformers were damaged in one area of the facility, and three transformer banks — or groups of transformers — were hit in another, according to a PG&E spokesman.

Cooling oil then leaked from a transformer bank, causing the transformers to overheat and shut down. State regulators urged customers in the area to conserve energy over the following days, but there was no long-term damage reported at the facility and there were no major power outages. There were no injuries reported. That was the good news. The bad news is that officials don’t know who the shooter(s) were, and most importantly, whether further attacks are planned.

“Initially, the attack was being treated as vandalism and handled by local law enforcement,” the senior intelligence official said. “However, investigators have been quoted in the press expressing opinions that there are indications that the timing of the attacks and target selection indicate a higher level of planning and sophistication.”

Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office
“PG&E Substation Surveillance Video”
(Sparks from bullets @ 1:54, 2:07, 2:10, 2:57, and 3:01)
YouTube Video

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is now in charge of the case. Even though the shooting took place one day after the Boston Marathon bombing, Harris wrote the FBI “has no evidence that the attack is related to terrorism, and it appears to be an isolated incident.”

However, there’s this later on in the piece:

“These were not amateurs taking potshots,” Mark Johnson, a former vice president for transmission operations at PG&E, said last month at a conference on grid security held in Philadelphia. “My personal view is that this was a dress rehearsal” for future attacks.

Wackjob(s)? Terrorist(s)? The authorities may never find out just who was behind the attack. But I can only imagine if this had taken place in the Chicago area during a brutal cold spell like the one we’re in now.

Should a similar attack be successful here in Chiberia-like conditions and the region plunged into an extensive and extended power outage, chaos and carnage could easily ensue.

Extreme weather (space weather included). Cyber attacks. Physical attack. I wished Washington would take steps to significantly harden the national power grid. But they won’t any time soon (other spending priorities, no immediate/substantial political “return” from doing so).

Regrettably, the bad guys have almost certainly figured this out as well.

Yep. Alternative/backup electricity and heating is starting to sound real good right now.

By Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (


Harris, Shane. “‘Military-Style’ Raid on California Power Station Spooks U.S.” Foreign Policy. 27 Dec. 2013. (, 8 Jan 2014.

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