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Attack on electric grid raises alarm

•, By Evan Halper and Marc Lifsher
 Shooters armed with assault rifles and some knowledge of electrical utilities have prompted new worries on the vulnerability of California's vast power grid.

A 2013 attack on an electric substation near San Jose that nearly knocked out Silicon Valley's power supply was initially downplayed as vandalism by Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the facility's owner. Gunfire from semiautomatic weapons did extensive damage to 17 transformers that sent grid operators scrambling to avoid a blackout.

But this week, a former top power regulator offered a far more ominous interpretation: The attack was terrorism, he said, and if circumstances had been just a little different, it could have been disastrous.

Jon Wellinghoff, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission when the shooting took place, said that attack was clearly executed by well-trained individuals seeking to do significant damage to the area, and he fears it was a test run for an even larger assault.

"It would not be that hard to bring down the entire region west of the Rockies if you, in fact, had a coordinated attack like this against a number of substations," Wellinghoff said Thursday. "This [shooting] event shows there are people out there capable of such an attack."

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