House subcommittee holds energy grid hearing in Moore County

Members of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Energy, Climate and Grid Security visit a Moore County substation that suffered an attack in December 2022.

PINEHURST — Members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce came to Moore County for a Congressional field hearing about securing the nation’s energy grid on Friday, June 16.

The hearing took place on the Pinehurst Village Hall not just miles from the sites of two attacks on power substations that left over 45,000 in the dark for nearly five days.

Rep. Richard Hudson, a member of the committee and resident of Southern Pines, called the field hearing essential and the start of a conversation.

“This is a day we’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Testimony we hear today will set up a national discussion on grid vulnerability,” Hudson said in his opening statement.

The attacks, a a subsequent shooting at another substation in neighboring Randolph County, created more urgency at both a state and federal level. A combined $75,000 reward for information has gone unanswered and no arrests in the Moore County attack have been made.

A day earlier, the General Assembly gave final approval of a bill increasing penalties for crimes relating to “injuring an energy facility” including electric, gas and telecommunications infrastructure. 

That bill, SB 58, creates a new statute making it a Class C felony to knowingly and willfully destroy, insure or otherwise damage an energy facility or attempt to do so. The statute also imposes a $250,000 penalty and increases penalties for trespassing at the facilities.

“America’s power grid the world’s largest and most complex power system,” said subcommittee chair Rep. Jeff Duncan. “We are taking a close look at these instances to determine if federal laws need to be changed in order to harden grid, improve situational awareness and enhance grid security.”

Hudson added that he wanted his colleagues to see the level of sophistication of the December 2022 attacks and how it would impact the nation if the type of attacks were replicated.

“Our region suffered millions of dollars in damage just weeks before Christmas. In response, our community stepped up. It’s inspiring to see how everyone stepped up in a time of need.”

Hudson said he would continue to push the FBI to investigate and said he shared in the frustration that the perpetrators have not been arrested.

“Not just the numbers and facts but the people personal experiences from those who suffered from these attacks.”

Mark Aysta, the managing director of enterprise security at Duke Energy, told the committee that once repairs were finished following the attacks, the company spent six months conducting a review of electric assets.

“We are shifting to a tiered approach with a greater focus on potential impacts to customers. We’ve identified opportunities to increase security and surveillance and we’re developing implementation schedules for this work,” he said. “Investments in resiliency are a critical part of the 75 billion dollars in grid improvements Duke Energy has planned for its electric utilities over the next decade.”

William Ray, the Director of N.C. Emergency Management, called for increased federal funding and reforms in federal statute that would allow broader disaster recovery efforts beyond a focus on natural hazards.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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Matt Mercer is the editor in chief of North State Journal and can be reached at [email protected].