WASHINGTON – Was a sniper attack on a power station’s transformer in San Jose, Calif., last year a prelude to future, perhaps larger, terrorist attacks on the vulnerable U.S. grid system?
That appears to be the consensus emerging from the attack that included a professional cutting of fiber optic lines and then shooting AK-47 rounds into the transformer of a PG&E Metcalf substation in San Jose.
The goal apparently was to cause the coolant to drain and the substation’s transformers to burn up and create a major blackout in the area.
In the attack, one or two individuals went down manholes at the suburban San Jose facility and cut fiber cables that knocked out 9-1-1 and land-line service to the power station.
In addition, they fired more than 100 7.62mm x 39mm rounds into about 10 transformers, damaging a number of them.
The idea was to cause cooling oil to leak out and force the transformers to overheat and shut down, if not burn up altogether. Depending on their size, larger transformers are imported and are specially designed, which means they are not easily replaced. Some take up to three years to swap out under normal circumstances.
The attack last year did not affect the electrical flow, owing in part to the fact that it occurred at night, demand was low and emergency workers were able to respond to prevent any major shutdown.Those big transformers don't sit on shelves at Home Depot, waiting to be installed. They are custom-built in only a few factories on Earth, and have LONG lead times.
Acts of war aside, a solar storm that sends a big CME our way could induce enough current in the long main feeders between the generators and the big transformers to cause them to saturate and self-destruct. AFAIK, there has been little or no work done on our grid to protect against this. One event like that could put us back in the 1880's overnight.