FILE - NC Power Outage Vandalism

Workers set up an automated display warning drivers on NC 211 of the power outage in the area and how to approach the upcoming intersections in Southern Pines, N.C., Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. The North Carolina lawmaker who represents a county where gunfire at electrical substations cut power to thousands in December is pushing legislation to increase power grid security when the legislative session begins in earnest next week.

(The Center Square) – State Rep. Ben Moss believes the cost of shutting down thousands of North Carolina homes and businesses amid attacks on the state’s power grid outweighs the expense of beefing up security.

The Moore County Republican told The Center Square he doesn’t “want anyone to go through what the citizens of Moore County did” when gunshots on two electrical substations cut power to about 40,000 last month.

A similar attack last week on a Randolph County substation motivated Moss, R-Richmond, to draft legislation he plans to introduce soon that would require the state’s electrical utilities to provide security “24 hours a day.”

“This is a starting point and my whole objective is to get everybody to the table to come together to find something that’s feasible and cost effective” to address the recent attacks, he said. “The last thing I want is energy rates to increase. But at the same time we know how expensive this is without the security.”

“It was a very big deal for the people of Moore County,” Moss said.

Others in the General Assembly, including Republican Rep. Neal Jackson, who represents Moore and Randolph counties, are calling for stiffer penalties for those convicted of the attacks. While Moss is “not against” those efforts and will “support it 100%,” he believes a more proactive approach is warranted.

“I don’t think they’re really concerned about the penalties,” Moss said, adding that he’s convinced the perpetrators are focused on maximizing the disruption on as many residents as possible.

Southeastern Randolph County borders northwestern Moore County. Randolph County is due south of Greensboro on the Interstate 74 corridor; Moore includes the world-famous Pinehurst area and is southwest of Raleigh, just to the northwest of Fayetteville.

Moss is among the first state lawmakers to propose a means to improve security amid a surge of attacks on electrical substations across the U.S. over the last year. While an ongoing FBI investigation seeks to determine if the recent shootings in North Carolina and elsewhere are related, officials in Washington, Oregon, South Carolina and Nevada are also looking into the issue.

At least 15 incidents were reported in Washington and Oregon in 2022, with the majority since November. A Nevada man was arrested earlier this month for setting fire to a solar facility there, according to media reports.

In South Carolina, where at least a dozen attacks were reported over the last year, lawmakers are also pushing for increased penalties for those who intentionally destroy utility infrastructure or equipment. South Carolina Senate Bill 331, sponsored by Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, would create a felony with a penalty of “not less than ten years nor more than twenty-five years” in prison for anyone convicted of damage using “a firearm or destructive device.”

Other South Carolina bills – Senate Bill 330 and House Bill 3577 – aim to address the issue, as well. SB330, also sponsored by Rankin, would create a range of penalties based on damage caused, including the cost to repair equipment and lost revenues. HB3577, sponsored by Rep. Michael Rivers, D-St. Helena Island, would impose a $30,000 fine for anyone who “willfully destroys, damages, or in any way injures an electrical substation.”

The South Carolina bills are expected to be reviewed by a subcommittee in the coming weeks, according to media reports.

The proposed legislation comes as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is studying security standards for the nation’s power grid, an effort prompted by the Moore County shootings last month.

FERC gave the North American Electric Reliability Corporation until early April to produce a report with recommended improvements.