PG&E Makes Security Upgrades at Metcalf Substation

Construction is underway on security enhancements nearly two years after a sniper attack crippled the facility and six months after an NBC Bay Area investigation exposed potential security vulnerabilities at some of PG&E’s critical substations

Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) is in the process of improving security at an electric substation in south San Jose nearly two years after snipers attacked the facility. The company has begun to install more security cameras, better lighting and concrete fencing around the facility’s perimeter to protect the critical infrastructure responsible for powering much of Silicon Valley.

The company said it has recently completed the installation of the concrete barriers around the Metcalf substation. The upgrades follow months of pressure from state and federal regulators for the utility companies to make necessary security improvements at critical substations.

“I think PG&E is getting ahead of the game and getting ahead of those requirements and actually putting things in place that will protect those facilities,” said Jon Wellinghoff, the former chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Wellinghoff says PG&E deserves credit for fulfilling its promise to enhance security at the Metcalf substation. Last year, the company pledged to spend $100 million to beef up the protection of critical electrical facilities across the state.

Last summer, NBC Bay Area discovered that many of the improvements PG&E promised had failed to materialize. The Investigative Unit made 14 unannounced visits to nine substations in northern and central California and found that many security vulnerabilities still existed at the locations more than 18 months after the attack on the Metcalf facility.

In April 2013, attackers shot 100 rifle rounds into 17 transformers, crippling the substation for a month and causing $15 million in damage. The attack lasted just 19 minutes but sparked widespread concern that it was either an act of terrorism or a trial run for an even bigger assault on the nation’s power grid. 

A military veteran with training in special operations assessed security at some of PG&E’s largest substations, including Metcalf, and concluded that most stations had “bare minimum.” He asked for anonymity because of future security-sensitive work.

“Metcalf could be repeated at all the sites you showed me in less than 15 minutes,” he said.

Last August, vandals breached security at Metcalf, just 16 months after the original attack on the station.  They cut their way through perimeter fencing and stole construction equipment. The heist went undetected by what PG&E described as “high-level security.”

The company declined interview requests but said in a statement, “the safety and security of our facilities is always our top priority” and “we will continue to be vigilant in reviewing our facilities for any risks and threats.” PG&E said that it is upgrading security at other substations, as well.

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