Central Hudson asks to add $1.4 million for security

 

Ratepayers of Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. may be asked to come up with an extra $1.4 million a year to increase security.

A string of incidents, mostly vandalism, but some concerns about employee safety, are cited by the Poughkeepsie-based utility as reasons why they want to massively increase spending on security, a nearly eight-fold boost.

The key element in the plan is to hire a private guard force to staff offices where customers come and to set up a team of roving guards to keep eyes on remote facilities, mostly substations.

The security item is part of a “joint proposal” in Central Hudson’s current rate case before the state Public Service Commission and is one reason behind the company’s call to increase customer costs over a three-year plan.

Details are contained in testimony filings by the company. Most parties to the debate signed the joint proposal and offered it as a settlement, though a grass-roots group, Citizens for Local Power, declined. The commission’s timetable calls for a vote before July 1, when new rates would kick in.

Utilities are required to report to the U.S. Department of Energy when there are physical or cyber attacks that threaten the functioning of the power grid. Three incidents for Central Hudson showed up in USA Today’s review of federal data.

John Maserjian, spokesman for Central Hudson, said, “As indicated by the filings with the U.S. Department of Energy, the incidents were physical in nature, and all three were related to copper wire theft or what is believed to be attempted theft.

The incidents were reported to and investigated by law enforcement authorities. None resulted in customer outages.

“Security measures at our facilities are in place, and Central Hudson follows a Physical Security Plan that is regularly updated,” he said.

The three cited incidents were a May 2011 vandalism to the North Chelsea Substation in Wappinger, an August 2013 “physical attack” resulting in copper theft from a Newburgh facility and a September 2014 physical attack and suspicious activity at an unidentified location. These “attacks” are what might in more ordinary terms be called break-ins.

While nothing serious happened to the grid, such violations show that somebody can break in and do damage. The concern of the federal officials is that such incidents could be staged by terrorists or others intent on punching holes in the grid and sending large areas into blackouts.

But the rate-case filings show several dozen more incidents. David P. Brideau, senior director of regulatory planning, and other officials listed 76 incidents from 2010 through 2014, most of which were larcenies, and the rest criminal mischief or vandalism.

Many were both, notably people breaking into a substation and stealing copper, including ground wires that are themselves a working part of the apparatus.

The filings say that Central Hudson now spends about $210,000 for security. The proposal would add $1,413,000 to that, mainly to hire a guard force. Plans also call for more cameras, including ways to monitor locations where communications wires don’t run.

Maserjian added, “In the case of copper thefts, in addition to enhanced security we are working with local law enforcement agencies and metal dealers to enforce laws pertaining to the sale and purchase of scrap metal. Theft of copper or any metal associated with electric facilities is dangerous, and can cause severe injury or even death to those who may try to steal these materials.”

Maserjian said the request to add the $1.4 million to its allowed security costs is in the joint proposal that is now before the commission.

In the proposal, electric delivery rates would rise 1.8 percent in the first year, 6.8 percent in the second and 7.9 percent in the third, according to Central Hudson’s calculations. And for natural gas, the changes would be a drop of 0.23 percent in the first year, and an increase of 1.8 percent in the second and 6.6 percent in the third.

The data reviewed by USA Today did not include any incident items for New York State Gas & Electric Corp., known as NYSEG.

Daniel Hucko, spokesman for Iberdrola, which owns Rochester Gas & Electric and NYSEG, said the company has been adding video cameras and developing more integrated response patterns to incidents. They have added a cyber insurance requirement for partners and contractors and are requiring background checks “on all individuals who will have access to our physical and cyber assets,” Hucko said.

Craig Wolf: 845-437-4815; cwolf@poughkeepsiejournal.com; Twitter: @craigwolfPJ

Inside

USA Today looks at power grid threats and security vulnerabilities nationwide. More than 350 physical and cyber attacks on important electrical equipment since January 2011 were reviewed, using a federal database, 1B.