Power is back on in Moore County, N.C., five days after gunfire at two Duke Energy substations knocked out power to 45,000 customers, as the utility take stronger steps to protect its grid.

Crews began restoration of power at about 9 a.m. on Dec. 8 after replacing all damaged equipment that serves an area near Charlotte, Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks said In a  press conference.

“At that time, we had all the equipment in place, installed, calibrated and synchronized to the grid and we began bringing in customers a few thousand at a time,” he said. “It was a phased approach-very manual.”

Total outages through the day dropped from about 35,000 customers to 1,200 customers as of 4 p.m., Brooks said, anticipating that virtually all customers would have power restored by the end of the day, one day earlier than the utility’s initial estimate. 

“The complexity of repairs required was extensive,” said Jason Hollifield, Duke Energy general manger for emergency preparedness in a statement. Crews worked 24-hour shifts, pursuing multiple repair paths and replacing several large and vital pieces of equipment by the end of Dec. 7, restoring power to customers in phases afterward. 

A state of emergency curfew expired Dec. 8, according to Moore County, which closed shelters and halted other emergency operations.

Electrical Equipment a Target

The Moore County incident follows multiple substation attacks in other parts of the country, including in the Pacific Northwest, where the Seattle Times reports deliberate attacks on substations in November

The US Dept. of Homeland Security issued its National Terrorism Advisory message Nov. 30, saying “Targets of potential violence include public gatherings, faith-based institutions, the LGBTQI+ community … U.S. critical infrastructure,” and more. 

Electric grid security and reliability remains the top priority for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), spokesperson Celeste Miler tells ENR. 

"FERC continues to closely monitor developments in the Carolinas and is coordinating with federal and state agency partners and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC)," she says. 

Duke Strengthens its Infrastructure

“We certainly have plans in place to strengthen our grid … including substations,” says Duke Energy spokesperson Logan Kureczka.

For security reasons, she says Duke Energy won’t share exactly what equipment was damaged and replaced, or exactly how the gunfire disabled that equipment.

The utility recently announced $75 billion over the next decade to be spent on improving the grid, including investments in security, and modernized and hardend transmission and distribution infrastructure, Kureczka says in a statement to ENR.

“That includes building a stronger electric infrastructure that is more resistant to power outages, restores power faster and is hardened against growing threats,” she says.

According to Duke Energy, that $75 billion is part of a larger $145-billion effort, 85% of which will go to fleet transition and grid modernization

New Grid Attacks

Reports of gunfire near a South Carolina power station followed closely the attack in Moore County, although officials say they are unrelated. 

“We are aware of reports of gunfire near the Wateree Hydro Station in Ridgeway, S.C.” says Kureczka. “No individuals were harmed. There are no outages reported. There is no known property damage at this time. We are working closely with the FBI on this issue.”

Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said law enforcement is working around the clock to find those who attacked the substations, including state, local and federal investigators and appeals to local residents near the two substations.

Moore County, Duke Energy and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper have pledged a combined $75,000 as a reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case, Fields said.

“An attack on our critical infrastructure will not be tolerated,” Cooper said in a statement. “I appreciate the coordinated efforts of law enforcement to leave no stone unturned in finding the criminals that did this.”