State Senator Announces Legislation Requiring Utilities to Develop Security Plans

March 11, 2014 8:00 am · 14 comments

State Sen. Jerry Hill today announced legislation that he said would require utilities to develop security plans to prevent attacks like one that caused more than $15 million in damage to a PG&E substation near San Jose last April.

Hill, D-San Mateo, held a news conference to announce Senate Bill 699.

Hill said the bill would force utilities to come up with plans to make the power grid less vulnerable to threats, reduce the consequences of possible attacks and improve the speed of power restoration in the event of such an attack.

“We should not fear the security of our electric system,” he said. The legislation comes after an overnight attack on April 16, 2013, by a sniper who knocked out 17 giant transformers at PG&E’s Metcalf substation south of San Jose and cut nearby underground fiber optic cables.

Hill said it took PG&E personnel more than 90 minutes to arrive at the scene after the attack, according to Hill.

No one has been arrested in the case, and crews spent nearly a month repairing all of the damage, which cost $15.4 million, he said.

Hill said the attack “should be a wake-up call” about security problems at utility sites. During today’s news conference, he pointed behind him to the Hunters Point substation.

“It’s just a fence,” Hill said. “It wouldn’t take much to get in there.”

His legislation would also require utilities to coordinate with law enforcement agencies in the event of deliberate destruction of utility equipment, and consult with the California Highway Patrol to designate certain utility employees as first responders to destructive cases.

If the bill becomes law, utilities that don’t comply with the new regulations would face sanctions from the California Public Utilities Commission, Hill said.

PG&E spokesman Brian Swanson said the utility does not have a formal position yet on Hill’s legislation but said PG&E officials think that any state legislation should mirror actions taken by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to develop security standards at the national level.

“We’ve already begun work on most of the upgrades and enhancements outlined by FERC,” including creating additional “buffer zones” with additional fencing, adding enhanced intruder detection systems and improving lighting at high-priority sites, Swanson said.

“Ever since the attack occurred at Metcalf, we’ve been working with federal and local agencies and security consultants to improve substation security throughout our system,” he said.

Suzanne March 11, 2014 at 8:34 AM

Hill is taking on the utility companies; about time someone did.

anon March 11, 2014 at 9:13 AM

what’s the readers digest version of this. or just the bullet points like cnn does

Took 90 minutes? March 11, 2014 at 9:53 AM

What does he think? They should just run in there and start replacing transformers while the sniper is still shooting?

The Biz March 11, 2014 at 10:01 AM

Suzanne, did you read the artcile?

The legislation is in response to a story where a sniper spent 19 minutes shooting out various parts of a power station. It’s a pretty crazy story about an attack on a transformer. It didn’t get any news coverage and even seems like the story was covered up/not disclosed? It happened in April of 2013 and the first story I saw break was in January of 2014. They’ve got no leads, the snipers took positions outside of camera angles that were covering the station, and the shooting stopped one minute before the police got there.

Mayor, feel free to link these or remove them – I think it’s good to know what happened and the story never made mainstream news despite it being a major terrorist attack.

guest March 11, 2014 at 10:03 AM

So… the feds are mandating review/improvements to security at all power stations across the country because of this incident. All this article says is something is being done at the State level, but we knew that would happen anyway.

What’s the point of this post? Not being critical, just curious.

TinFoiler March 11, 2014 at 10:22 AM

Reads like a readers digest already. One sniper? Sounds more like an organized team. Most people don’t know where to shoot at a transformer and would not bother to take out the phone line in order to buy more time. This was a dry run to see what they can get away with.

funny man March 11, 2014 at 10:43 AM

• More pointless legistlation
• More polititcal posturing for brownie points
• More corporate scapegoating and sniveling
• Same ol, same ol

Clayanon March 11, 2014 at 10:58 AM

PG&E doesn’t seem to take much very seriously. The PUC should be assigning auditors to watch them like a hawk and force them to make safety and security a priority. Security and safety issues at PG&E can cause injuries and death, as we saw in San Bruno. Massive power outages from “terrorism” (if this is what the attack in San Jose was, although whatever we call it, it could have had serious repercussions) should be enough to jolt PG&E into action but it appears they need to be forced into action.

Always wondered March 11, 2014 at 11:20 AM

if the power companies have considered those high tension power lines out in the middle of the forest or isolated could be a target for a little explosion. Those power lines run all over the US and are in the most isolated spots.

Michelle March 11, 2014 at 12:23 PM

This was inevitable, the question is whats next and how will this happen. Current legislation is all talk and bulls***; the only thing that can be don is to pour more money into the system and build.

ClayDen March 11, 2014 at 1:00 PM

I’m glad that this is finally getting some “traction.” This could very well have been a dry run to see how difficult it is to accomplish. Based on the result at Metcalf, it would only take a few dozen terrorists to bring down a substantial part of the power grid of the country, and would have dire consequences. The reality is that there are millions of people who hate us and would like to hurt us and we need to be vigilant. This is a war, though most people seem to be oblivious to the reality of it.

Suzanne March 11, 2014 at 1:05 PM

@The Biz,
This was a terrorist attack and the fact the terrorist knew where the cameras were and exactly what to target discloses that it was someone who was familiar with the facility. And that it really never gained real news coverage and was hushed quickly-shows that it could possibly be an inside job or someone with the power to do this. This should have been addressed last year, but it is being addressed now—and about time it is.

KaL March 11, 2014 at 2:59 PM

Sounds like a “no brainer” to me. Securing our infrastructure services should be a priority for Homeland security.Water as well as power should be a major concern. I’m sure the various utility providers will find a way of shifting the cost back to their customers. Just like every time PG&E does anything which should come out of their pocket/profit it seems to eventually empty my pocket.
Start looking closely at the CPUC notices included in your bills. Last one I looked into had to do request to CPUC to approve a cost increase to consumers for a consumer cost saving plan PG&E had been running. REALLY!

Fritzhugh Ludlow March 11, 2014 at 3:33 PM

Back in 1975 the New World Liberation Front bombed a number of PGE transformers including the ones at Ygnacio Valley and Pine Hollow. Its good to see such a timely concern.

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