PG&E increases security at large substations

(BCN) PG&E is implementing heightened security measures at its main substations in California since snipers fired rifle bullets and knocked out 17 transformers at a company facility near San Jose last year, a spokesman said.

Brian Swanson, spokesman for San Francisco-based PG&E, said the utility company’s plan is to spend $86 million over the next three years on new physical security features at the largest of its more than 900 substations.

The utility will institute stronger measures such as opaque fencing to its “top priority” substations after saboteurs shot up oil tanks at the 500,000-volt Metcalf substation last April 16, Swanson said.

“We are building fences to effectively block the vision others have of (each) substation,” Swanson said.

The new fences, to replace old chain-link barriers, are to be installed in the next few months at PG&E’s bigger substations, starting with Metcalf in unincorporated Santa Clara County, Swanson said.

PG&E several months ago put in place new security precautions at its big substations, such as round-the-clock security guards. Local law enforcement agencies have increased patrols at the substations at PG&E’s request, Swanson said.

The company enhanced lighting around the substations, put in new surveillance cameras with “more advanced technology” and removed excess vegetation around them to “eliminate potential hiding places” for saboteurs, Swanson said.

Other security measures have been instituted “that we can’t reveal,” he said.

He declined to disclose the number and locations of the other major PG&E substations where the company has stepped up security since the shooting at Metcalf.

Swanson said that some media reports have incorrectly assumed that PG&E’s security plans came in response to a Feb. 4 article in the Wall Street Journal that cited former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman Jon Wellinghoff’s opinion that terrorists had attacked the Metcalf substation.

“It’s important to note that we have been working very aggressively immediately following the incident that occurred,” Swanson said. “This is not like this started this past couple of weeks.”

Peter Lee, a spokesman for the FBI in San Francisco, said the investigation into the Metcalf shooting is ongoing but that the agency “does not believe it involves terrorism as far as we can see right now.”

At 1:45 a.m. on April 16, the sheriff’s office was called about shots fired at PG&E’s substation in the 100 block of Metcalf Road between Monterey Highway and U.S. Highway 101 south of San Jose.

One or more shooters fired rifle bullets that pierced tanks containing oil used to power machines that cool the transformers and 52,000 gallons of oil leaked out, Swanson said.

A fence alarm at the facility alerted PG&E’s corporate security at 1:37 a.m. that morning and the utility’s main control center in Vacaville received word at 1:45 a.m., shut the substation down by remote control and rerouted power from transformers at other stations.

The attack put 17 of the 23 power transformers at Metcalf out of commission but thanks to redundant systems that rerouted electrical power to the area “no one last power,” according to Swanson.

At about 1:30 a.m. that morning, underground fiber optic cables, owned by the telecom firm AT&T and protected by manhole covers, were severed in two locations along Monterey Highway about a half-mile from the Metcalf facility, according to AT&T officials.

PG&E has consulted with various federal and local agencies about its security policies and received recommendations on how to improve them, Swanson said.

(Copyright 2014 Bay City News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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