Monday, June 17, 2024
EnergyInfrastructureUtilities

Terrorists Blew Up Power Infrastructure This Weekend. The Media Barely Noticed.

To be fair, there’s a lot of weird stuff going on these days. The wealthiest man in the world, with “man” being perhaps a stretch, is having a widely publicized meltdown while dismantling one of the world’s most popular social media companies. The former US president proposed suspending the US Constitution because he doesn’t like the election outcome. Black voters in Georgia are being disenfranchised ahead of that state’s hotly contested runoff election for US Senate. And, in North Carolina? Domestic terrorists blew up two substations, cutting power to tens of thousands of people. Duke Energy has no idea when it’ll be restored, but not within the next day or two. It’s ugly, folks!  But you wouldn’t know it from reading about the Far Left Democrats on Fox News.

The December 5, 2022, morning front page on Fox News, focusing on the hard-hitting journalism.
How Do 100,000 People Lose Power?

Moore County is, for all intents and purposes, in the middle of nowhere. Located in the Sandhills region of the state, it’s mostly rural, and is home to a number of small cities, like Carthage, Aberdeen, and Pinehurst, comprising about 100,000 total residents. Of 47,000 power customers, 96% were without power after the incident. (If you’re wondering about the math– why 47,000 ≠ 100,000- it’s largely because children don’t have utility accounts). Read that again: Nearly 100% of the people in Moore County, North Carolina, were without power owing to a terrorist attack.

Aside: If I can insert a bit of utility nerdery for a minute for the uninitiated: power transmission refers most broadly to the giant power lines that connect the power plants to smaller substations, like the ones that got hit here. These lines are high voltage. Voltage is stepped down to an intermediate level by substations like these, and then stepped down again before it comes into your house. After it gets stepped down from the transmission, this is called “distribution.” High voltage is useful to minimize transmission losses over big distances, while line voltage at the house– 110 or 120VAC- is what most appliances and household systems run on. It is analogous to having local streets, major thoroughfares, and highways, with each system having its distinct advantages and disadvantages for traffic flow, speed, safety, and spatial impact of development and maintenance.

Companies like Pepco (RIP my career there) or DTE are distribution utilities, while companies like ITC provide transmission for companies like DTE. Exelon spun off its generation business into Constellation earlier this year, but still owns distribution companies like Pepco or Atlantic City Electric.

Anyway, let’s move on.

While investigators have been quiet about what they know thus far, it is being treated as as an intentional and malicious act. Most media reports are referring to the substations being “damaged by gunfire.” NBC-2 featured a photo of a security gate at Duke Energy’s West End 230kV Substation having been knocked off its hinges. But it might strike one as odd that no one seems to be calling it “terrorism.” We might use that language in, you know, a normal reality.

Aerial view from a drone looking straight down at high-voltage power transmission infrastructure, some sort of substation or transformer assembly, and a part of the power grid.
A larger version of one of the substations that was damaged in the weekend terrorist attack.

When Does It Become “A Terrorism”?

After all, such were the words used by investigators of the Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot, which also involved a half-baked scheme to blow up a bridge on a US highway. That seems pretty much straight up terrorism, does it not? North Carolina State Senator Tom McInnis, quoted in the Times, described the incident as a “terrible act” that appeared to be “intentional, willful and malicious.” But again, no one is calling it terrorism.

And here’s where it gets weird. Or, really, even weirder. (Because it’s already pretty wild when terrorists blow up critical power infrastructure).

Social media was quick to make a direct connection between the power outage and an event that was going on in downtown Pinehurst, to which the substations’ demise would knock out power. This event was none other than the Downtown Divas drag show, which was fundraising for local Pride events. Drag shows have become a flashpoint in recent months as part of the Republican culture war on civil liberties and the LGBTx community. Allegations of “grooming” young people factor into the QAnon-level conspiracies that Democrats harvest chemicals from children’s brains to help them live longer. (I really, really wish I were kidding). The obsessive and truly relentless Republican push to denigrate and demonize the gay and trans community have resulted in what observers call “stochastic terrorism”– the idea that events, like the mass shooting of a gay nightclub in Colorado, are the random (stochastic) product of this kind of vitriol in the discourse.

Of course, even an attempt to bring this up usually results in endless whataboutism, which, according to Godwin’s Law, inevitably must end in pointing out that Nazis who killed Jews in concentration camps made the conscious choice to kill Jews, which had nothing to do with the Nazi party leadership telling them to kill Jews, absolving the latter of responsibility and placing all on the former. (To be perfectly clear, this is utterly ridiculous, and people need to take responsibility for their words, especially if they’re in positions of power– whether it’s Elon Musk being investigated for stock price manipulation or the United States president telling his supporters to shoot Mexican migrants, which they… then… did).

It seems like something we should be talking about …when US army officers, past or present, make casual references to either approving or having specific knowledge of domestic terrorist attacks.

When someone … more or less admits to it?

Charlotte Clymer, journalist, communications professional, and general woman-about-town with nearly 400,000 Twitter followers, posted a screenshot of a Facebook post by Emily Rainey, a former army officer who resigned while under investigation for her involvement in the January 6th terrorist attack on the US Capitol, in which Rainey allegedly wrote that “[t]he power is out in Moore County and I know why.”

Rainey has since been questioned by law enforcement officers. She later wrote:

“God works in mysterious ways and is responsible for the outage […] I used the opportunity to tell [law enforcement] about the immoral drag show and the blasphemies screamed by its supporters. God is chastising Moore County. I thanked them for coming and wished them a good night. Thankful for the LEOs service, as always.”

Yikes on (Class III electric) bikes.

Are we going to get real and call this what it is? Rainey was a psychological operations officer in the Army (whatever that means). To say nothing of the prevalence of J6 sympathizers in the US military and law enforcement– the term “somewhat problematic” seeming egregiously insufficient- it seems like something we should be talking about. You know, when US army officers, past or present, make casual references to either approving or having specific knowledge of domestic terrorist attacks.

Call it what it is: an act of domestic terrorism. Whether it’s connected to the drag show is anyone’s guess, but that’ll come out in time, too. It just seems a little bit too spot-on to have Rainey’s posts specifically referring to her having knowledge of the attacks, God issuing judgment for the sins of drag shows, etc., and to have the power knocked out at the drag show itself. An utterly bizarre chain of events, but– wait, yes- still terrorism!

In the meantime, North Carolinian Andrew Wilkins, whose LinkedIn identifies him as the Director of Land Conservation Policy with the National Wildlife Federation, tweeted about the goings-on. Pharmacies are resorting to extreme measures to keep critical medicine refrigerated. Cell phone service has been spotty. And news reports indicate thousands of people evacuating the county as law enforcement declared a curfew to dissuade looting, at least one incident of which was reported in Wilkins’ thread. For Duke Energy, it’s perhaps a great opportunity to harden their infrastructure. Detroit

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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