‘Deliberate Attack’ on Clackamas-Area Substation Left 6,400 in the Dark, PGE Says

Portland General Electric announced Friday it was taking steps toward safety and security after an attack on one of its substations in the Clackamas area last month left more than 6,000 homes without power.

In a notice, the company said the “deliberate attack” in late November briefly impacted an estimated 6,400 customers, but PGE’s teams assessed the damage and restored service.

“There will always be new challenges to the grid,” Eric Barnhart, PGE’s senior director of security said in the release.

“We take every one of them seriously. As an essential service provider, we continually strive to strike the right balance between reliability, affordability, and security, and our customer prices reflect reasonable and prudent expenditures. We work to thwart the most likely and significant risks to our system.”

Electrical substations are a complicated and potentially dangerous part of the nation’s electrical system tasked with converting high-voltage electricity from long-distance transmission lines into the lower voltages used by businesses and residences.

The attack was one of four that happened in the Pacific Northwest in late November. The Bonneville Power Administration has also confirmed what it described as a “deliberate physical attack” that damaged a substation in Clackamas County early on Thanksgiving morning.

PGE, the BPA, Cowlitz County Public Utility District and Puget Sound Energy confirmed to Oregon Public Broadcasting that they have experienced a total of six separate attacks on electrical substations in that state and in Washington.

All of the attacks were conducted using firearms, officials said.

The attacks happened prior to a similar attack in Moore County, North Carolina, in early December. That attack on two substations left more than 45,000 without power for several days.

In the wake of the attacks, federal law enforcement and utility officials have warned that they may be linked to online chatter by extremist groups calling for such sabotage and even providing instructions on how to do it.

PGE said it is working with the FBI to investigate the attack, though the Bureau declined to confirm the investigation to OPB. Additionally, the company said it is working to increase security.

“Wherever and whenever possible, we go above and beyond industry standards, and consistent with our commitment to continuous improvement in the face of ever-evolving threats, we routinely assess the physical security of our substation facilities to prioritize security upgrades,” PGE said in a statement.

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