California Senate Passes Bill to Strengthen Electrical Grid Safety

The state Senate passed a bill Friday that would beef up security for California's electrical grid.

The bill was sent to the governor's desk just days after a South Bay electrical substation suffered the second of two significant security breaches.

In the first breach, in April 2013, a lightning fast sniper attack took out 17 transformers at Metcalf substation in less than 20 minutes. It's unknown if there were one or many shooters and nobody has been arrested for the sabotage. Some suggested the attack may have been a trial run for a larger terrorist attack on the nation's electrical grid.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit recently reported that some Santa Clara Sheriff's Office insiders are now criticizing the initial police response to that attack.

Senate Bill 699 would require the California Public Utilities Commission(CPUC) to create new safety rules for utilities to follow. In a press release, the bill's sponsor Senator Jerry Hill wrote "Whatever PG&E is doing doen't seem to be working. We need independent oversight to validate the company's work and claims they are making."

The bill does not spell out specific reforms but rather tasks the CPUC to create them. The Commission's existing regulations mostly have to do with maintenance. They have in fact begun the process of developing a new set of safety oriented regulations, but Senator Hill's staff believed the rules would not be completed for years.

SB 699 requires that a new phase of existing proceedings must be completed by July 3rd 2015.

PG&E was upgrading the Metcalf substation when the second security breach occurred. Burglars cut through the fence at three locations in the middle of the night. According to PG&E, no electrical infrastructure was damaged, but construction equipment was stolen. The utility is asking for the public's help in locating the equipment and have urged anyoen with information to call the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Department at 408-808-4431.

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