Investigators with the FBI, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the Moore County Sheriff’s Office are still looking for suspects in the attack on two Duke Energy substations.

On Dec. 3, someone shot up two substations in Moore County and knocked out power to 45,000 customers. The power wasn’t fully restored until Dec. 7.

What happened?

Investigators have been tight-lipped about the specifics. But what they have said is that an unknown person or people broke into two Duke Energy substations that Saturday evening. Someone fired multiple gunshots into the substations in West End and Carthage, according to the FBI. The substations are about 10 miles apart, the FBI said.

Substations are a key part of the power grid. They’re complexes of electrical equipment used to move power from transmission lines to local electric grids.

The damage cut power to about 45,000 customers, mostly Duke Energy customers. A Duke Energy spokesman said they could repair some of the damage but also had to replace some large equipment. The company has not yet said what the total price tag was for the damage.

Duke Energy managed to get about 10,000 customers back online in a couple of days, but about 35,000 customers were in the dark for four days.

What’s going on with the investigation?

The FBI, the North Carolina SBI and the Moore County Sheriff’s Office are working together to figure out what happened and who did it. Most public information so far has come from the sheriff’s office, but the county has not held a press conference or given an update since Dec. 7.
Sheriff Robbie Fields said it was an intentional criminal attack on the power stations.

Whoever was responsible "knew exactly what they were doing to cause the damage and cause the outage that they did," the sheriff said.

"What happened here Saturday night was a criminal act, and federal, state and local law enforcement are actively working to bring those responsible to justice," Gov. Roy Cooper said in the days after the attack.

Last week the governor announced a $75,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever was responsible for the attack. 

Investigators have said they do not know what the motive was for shooting up the substations. When asked if it was connected to a drag show going on at the same time in Southern Pines, the sheriff declined to comment. There were protests at the drag show that Saturday evening. But no one from the FBI or SBI has spoken about a connection between the drag show and the attack.

The people who put on the drag show and others in the close-knit community have said they feel threatened, especially after the Club Q shooting in Colorado. A gunman killed five people during a drag show at the Colorado Springs nightclub last month.

Will rate payers have to foot the bill for repairs?

Duke Energy has not yet said how much it cost to repair the substation. The cost of those repairs would likely be passed onto rate payers.

There was an attack on a substation in Oregon on Nov. 24 that did not cut power, according to the Bonneville Power Administration.

“The damage and associated cleanup will cost Northwest ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars,” BPA’s John Lahti said. He said if they had lost power the financial damage would have been worse.

In 2013 someone shot up a substation in California, damaging more than a dozen transformers and causing more than $15 million in damage, according to regulators.

The cost for repairs in Moore County will likely be in the millions, according to the sheriff. But Duke Energy so far has not given North Carolina regulators an estimate on what that final bill might be. And that does not include the cost to the community who lost power for four days. 

What charges could the culprits face?

Investigators have not commented on what charges could be filed against someone for the substation attack. The specific charges would also depend on if the person, or people, accused in the attack are charged by a local, state or federal agency.

The stiffest charges that have been mentioned so far involve domestic terrorism. Someone convicted in the attack could face years in prison.