Updated Dec 26, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Attacks on Washington substations knock out power to thousands

Four substations in and around the Tacoma, Washington, area were "vandalized by burglars" Sunday, knocking out power to thousands of people, police said.

The big picture: Law enforcement was searching for suspects following the attacks at the Tacoma Public Utilities and Puget Sound Energy substations, authorities said.

A screenshot of local police warning that burglars have caused widespread outages after vandalizing 3 substations in Tacoma, Washington.
Photo: Pierce County Sheriff's office/Twitter
  • Officials initially said three substations had been affected and 14,000 people had lost power. But a fourth substation was attacked later Sunday, the Pierce County Sheriff's office said.

The latest: At least 650 Tacoma Public Utilities customers remained without power as of 1pm local time Monday, according to a tweet from the company.

  • TPU said it is deploying a mobile substation and hopes to restore power by 2pm.
  • About 500 Puget Sound Energy customers had no power as of 11am, and that company hopes to remedy the issue Monday night, the Seattle Times reported.

Details: The sheriff's office first received a report of a burglary at a TPU substation at 5:26am local time and later at another TPU facility. Nothing was taken from either site, per the statement.

  • They were alerted to a substation belonging to Puget Sound Energy being targeted at 11:25am.
  • "Deputies are currently on scene at this facility where the fenced area was broken into and the equipment vandalized," the Pierce County Sheriff's office said.
  • Dispatchers received a call of a fire at another Puget Sound Energy substation at 7:21pm local time.
  • "The fire was extinguished and the substation secured. ... The suspect(s) gained access to the fenced area and vandalized the equipment which caused the fire. There are no suspects in custody at this time," the sheriff's office said.

What we're watching: "At this time deputies are conducting the initial investigation. ... It is unknown if there are any motives or if this was a coordinated attack on the power systems," the Pierce County Sheriff's office said.

  • The FBI's Seattle Division declined to say Sunday whether its office was involved in the investigation, but told CNN: "We do take threats against our infrastructure seriously and urge anyone with information to contact law enforcement."
  • Puget Sound Energy "has extensive measures to monitor, protect and minimize the risk to our equipment and infrastructure" and is "coordinating with authorities on suspected acts of vandalism," the company said in a statement to Axios.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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