Troopers increase security at Virginia substations critical to grid

Posted at 12:49 AM, Mar 11, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-11 07:01:54-04

DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) - Several Dinwiddie and Prince George residents are questioning the presence of police officers now guarding an electric substation in a remote location of Dinwiddie.

Mark Mobley, who lives 150-feet from the high voltage transmission facility, says he was surprised to see Virginia State Troopers guarding the facility throughout the day Monday.

“I’ve never seen them out there before,” Mobley says.

Dominion Virginia Power says the increased security comes on the heels of a request by federal energy regulators to protect major substations critical to the operation of the nation’s electric grid.

Residents in Hanover say similar police protection can be seen at a major substation in the county.

However, Dominion says there are no immediate threats to any of the company’s 400-plus facilities in Virginia and North Carolina.

“There have been no threats of any type made against electric transmission facilities,” says Scot Hathaway, Vice President of Electric Transmission.

Hathaway says the police presence is in response to recent reports by the Wall Street Journal, highlighting the vulnerability of the nation’s electric grid to physical attack.

Last April, unknown gunmen shot up a California substation, heavily damaging 17 large transformers that helped send power to the Silicon Valley.

While terrorism experts don’t believe an isolated incident would cause wide-spread or cascading blackouts, the Department of Homeland Security believes multiple attacks could cause a major disruption to the country’s three electric regions, including the East, West and Texas.

In September 2013, Dominion announced a system resiliency and security plan to address security vulnerabilities.   The plan looks at protection, detection and mitigation when it comes to nature/man-made security breaches.

“We took all our transformers and put them all into one of four risk buckets, level one being the greatest risk,” Hathaway says.  “We’ve focused our efforts, in terms of time and money, on protecting substations on a priority basis.”

The entire project will take five to seven years to complete.

It’s unclear how long the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will require power companies to supply physical protection, or whether state or local agencies have the resources to allocate to substation security.

Virginia State Police directed questions to Dominion Virginia Power.