North Carolina legislators back review to harden power infrastructure

North Carolina’s top legislative leaders said Tuesday that the General Assembly will review what can be done to protect the state’s power transmission system following the Duke Energy substation shooting attacks this month that put Moore County in the dark for days.

Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said that ways to better safeguard infrastructure for generating electricity, producing clean water and other services would soon get the attention of colleagues.

“It needs to be frankly part of a broader conversation of just readiness and preparedness, not only for those kind of acts, but also for other emergencies,” Moore told reporters at the Legislative Building after both chambers essentially wrapped up their two-year session. The 170-seat legislature convenes its next session on Jan. 11.

State and federal law enforcement are continuing to investigate the outages, which began Dec. 3 when one or more people drove up to two substations, breached the gates and opened fire on them, according to authorities.

No arrests have been made in the shootings, which cut power to 45,000 customers. Law enforcement officials, who last week were seeking warrants in the case, haven’t described a possible motive.

But “no matter what the motivation of the folks that caused the damage was … we can move forward with assessments as to how we can protect some of that infrastructure,” Berger said earlier Tuesday.

The comments by the Republican lawmakers align with those of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has said protecting critical infrastructure needs to be a top priority. He said he anticipated conversations with utilities and government officials about what to do. The state Utilities Commission got an update on Monday from Duke Energy executives about the attack.

Moore said he wanted to hear from Duke Energy leaders and other experts about whether the transmission system in North Carolina is similar to those elsewhere. Fortifying substations could be cost prohibitive — Duke operates 2,100 of them statewide — but “there may be some inexpensive things that can be done” to protect them from attack, Moore said.

Berger said it didn’t make sense to speculate about proposing tougher criminal penalties for those who cause such damage while the criminal investigation is ongoing.

The two legislative leaders were in Raleigh to gavel in and out the latest perfunctory floor sessions held since late July. The GOP-controlled General Assembly decided after its chief work period for the year ended July 1 to schedule monthly meetings in Raleigh to take up any urgent matters. That also would have allowed them to vote on possible breakthroughs on key issues, like Medicaid expansion.

But no recorded votes were taken during these sessions, and a stalemate over expansion was never resolved. After Tuesday, the House and Senate will hold no-vote floor meetings every few days until the end of the month to close the two-year term.

While few senators attended Tuesday’s session, the House floor was nearly full of members. Two representatives appointed in recent months to fill vacancies — Democrat Jack Nichols of Wake County and Republican Paul O’Neill of Currituck County — were formally seated less than three weeks before their terms officially end.

And roughly 20 representatives who won’t return next year due to retirement, electoral defeat or moving to the Senate spoke on the House floor. They shared stories, thanked colleagues and offered advice. Many recalled bipartisan successes with legislation.

“Work together and have respect for each other,” said eight-term Rep. Pat McElraft, a Carteret County Republican who didn’t seek reelection.

Democratic Sen. Wiley Nickel of Wake County, who was elected to Congress last month, expressed a similar theme during a farewell address Tuesday in the Legislative Building press room: “Our state is so much better off when leaders put aside partisan politics and look for common ground.”


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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