Coordinated gunfire late on Dec. 3 into two Duke Energy substations in North Carolina has left tens of thousands without power after damaging equipment that officials say will take days and cost millions to fix. As state and federal probes seek out who caused equipment and infrastructure damage, utility crews are working around the clock to restore service, but that could take until Dec. 8.

About 45,000 Duke Energy customers were initially left without power in Moore County in southeast North Carolina, northwest of Fayetteville. 

As the Moore County Sheriff’s Office began responding to the incident, utility officials discovered evidence of the intentional vandalism, says the sheriff’s office. 

At a Dec. 4 press conference, Sheriff Ronnie Fields said evidence at the scene showed that a firearm had been used to disable the equipment, telling reporters that multiple shots were fired into the substations. The act, he said, “was targeted. It wasn’t random.”

Fields said the act resulted in millions of dollars in damage to Duke Energy. 

State of Emergency

As of Dec. 5, the utility reported 39,700 customers in the area still without power, spokesperson Logan Kureczka told ENR, after Duke was able to reconnect around 7,000 customers. She says it will take several more days to fully restore power, with the current estimate for full restoration set for midday on Dec. 8. 

The outages prompted the county to declare a state of emergency and impose a 9 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew. Local schools were closed Dec. 5. 

In a tweet late Dec. 4, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Richard Glick said the agency is monitoring the incident, and that grid security and reliability remains the top priority as Duke Energy works to restore services.

Jeff Brooks, another Duke Energy spokesperson, said at the press conference that the utility is seeking ways to partially restore power via mobile equipment or other temporary technologies, but that critical replacement of damaged equipment will take time. 

“Because of the scale of the equipment and where it’s located, and moving it and what it takes to install it, prepare it and put it into service, there’s a physical timeframe there,” he said.

According to Kureczka, multiple layers of security are in place for substations, including physical barriers such as fencing, as well as processes and personnel to monitor the areas—although she could not say if the substations in question had any personnel on site. 

“We do plan for this,” Brooks said Dec. 4. “This is part of our protocols, part of our planning, and we’re working the plan now.” 

Duke Energy, in a release, says “several large and vital pieces of equipment were damaged in the event,”  with 24-hour crew repair shifts set up, to be followed by equipment testing and final restoration.

Kureczka says Duke sent equipment from its Charlotte headquarters to assist the mix of subcontractors and Duke crews working on the two substations. 

“Something as specific as this has never happened,” she says, of what is believed to be a coordinated vandalism attack, but Duke takes an “all hazards approach” to its emergency response. 

Speculation from social media posts have linked the act to hostility toward a local drag show, and one local resident was questioned by law enforcement after posting online that she knew why the power was out, a statement Fields said was false, and “turned out to be nothing.”  

Fields could not give details on what charges the perpetrator would face, saying that law enforcement will lean on federal investigators to levy federal charges that would have more teeth. 

He said he couldn’t answer whether the incident rises to the level of domestic terrorism.