America’s energy grid is on alert over fears that terrorists could plunge the country into darkness.One of the country’s top energy officials has told Sky News that an incident last year, which went almost unnoticed, was an alarming demonstration of what terrorists could be planning.
Snipers fired dozens of rounds into an electricity substation in San Jose in California in April, knocking out a number of giant transformers that supply Silicon Valley.
Experts say what was initially recorded by police as vandalism was in fact a meticulously planned and highly professional operation. The attackers even cut underground communication lines before they opened fire.
The fear is that a larger, co-ordinated attack could knock out the grid for weeks or months. Some believe the April attack might have been a dress rehearsal.
Jon Wellinghoff, head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time of the attack, has described it as the biggest ever domestic terrorist attack on the energy grid.
He told Sky News: “There are individuals out there capable of doing this sort of damage.
“Without you knowing that there are people intent on doing this damage, you don’t take it seriously.
“Now we know that, we know how well-trained they were, how well they executed this, people are taking this seriously.”
He offers a stark warning of the consequences: “The entire United States could go black. If you knocked out enough of these substations in a co-ordinated attack, you could turn the entire country into 2003 blackout.”
That blackout, caused initially by a computer problem, left more than 40 million people without power on the east coast.
The FBI says it does not believe the attack was terrorism. No one has been arrested. US Navy Seals have said it is a carbon copy of how they would carry out such an operation.
The attack on San Jose has left local people nervous.
Ross Paquette told Sky News: “It concerns me that a couple of guys can pull up in a car and take out a substation like that overnight. What concerns me more is that we had no idea it happened.”
Energy officials say they prevented a blackout this time by re-routing power through other transformers. Thankfully, these vital components to civilization undergo regular transformer oil analysis as well as other diagnostic and maintenance procedures in order to ensure their enduring and safe operation.
Brain Swanson, a spokesman for substation owner Pacific Gas and Electric, said: “This incident was a game-changer for the industry. It is not just us working alone, the whole industry is working at all levels on how we can improve grid security across the country.” Immediately after the April attack, they began an overhaul of security at the Metcalf substation and other locations.