Washington grid attacks flew under the radar for months
Recent attacks on the Northwest electrical grid have law enforcement agencies on high alert.
Two Puyallup men were arrested after four Pierce County substations were targeted Christmas day. Detention hearings for Matthew Greenwood and Jeremy Crahan, charged with the federal crime of conspiracy to damage energy facilities, are scheduled for Friday and Tuesday, respectively, in Tacoma.
But KUOW has learned that attacks on the grid have been surging in Washington state since last summer.
The U.S. Department of Energy keeps tabs on disturbances to the nation’s electrical grid from natural, accidental, and intentional causes.
That DOE data and other reporting by KUOW reveal previously unreported physical attacks on substations in southwest Washington this summer.
On June 16, someone knocked out a substation in the Lewis County town of Morton. Five days later, a substation in the Grays Harbor County town of Central Park was attacked.
On Aug. 5, somebody used a similar method to knock out a substation in the town of Toledo.
A Lewis County Sheriff’s Office report shows a steel cable used in the Toledo attack burned in half by high-voltage electricity.
Other substations were targeted on Aug. 31 in Oakville and Oct. 6 in Central Park.
“For someone to seek entry to a substation and attempt to do damage is incredibly dangerous,” Grays Harbor Public Utility District spokesperson Ian Cope said. “It really is amazing to me that there hasn't been a fatality for one of these vandals or thieves or whoever attempts to gain entry to a substation without the proper training.”
Other substations were targeted in November in Washington and Oregon, before a more damaging attack in North Carolina generated widespread power outages and national headlines.
The five summer incidents bring the number of known grid attacks in the Northwest to at least 15 in 2022, with 10 of them in November and December.
An ongoing investigation by KUOW and Oregon Public Broadcasting has found that the Northwest grid was physically attacked more in 2022 than in the previous six years combined.
Copper thieves often target electrical infrastructure, yet in none of the incidents in our tally was anything reported stolen.
Matthew Greenwood, one of the defendants in the Christmas day substation attacks, told police he wanted to cause a power outage to burglarize a local business, according to his federal charging document. In it, FBI domestic-terrorism special agent Mark Tucher says Greenwood and co-defendant Jeremy Crahan robbed an unnamed local business during one of the power outages they caused.
Whether any of the substation attacks, in the Northwest and beyond, are connected is being investigated.
Additional reporting by Conrad Wilson of Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Correction, 3:50 p.m., 2/9/2023: An earlier version misstated the dates of attacks in Grays Harbor County.