Vandals damage electricity infrastructure in South King County

Two recent attacks near Renton are estimated to have cost $90,000.

The South King County area has seen a series of attacks on electrical infrastructures, similar to what Clackamas County in Oregon and Pierce County faced in 2022 alongside other areas in the Pacific Northwest.

Vandals recently targeted the Covington-Maple Valley power line near Renton, which carries electricity from large power plants to substations, then distributes the electricity to consumers. This specific line handles 230 kilovolts of electricity, according to the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which operates a large portion of the region’s power grid.

In December 2023, a vandal damaged a power line, and in April 2024, another attack occurred on BPA equipment one mile from the prior December attack.

Both incidents occurred about 4 miles northwest of Maple Valley just south of State Route 169.

Costs associated with the two incidents near Renton were estimated to have cost $90,000, said a BPA spokesperson in an email to the Renton News: “It’s important to note that these are not planned and could add expense to ratepayers’ bills if they consume their electricity from a public utility district, municipal electric utility or rural electric co-op.”

In November 2022, two substation attacks in Clackamas County cost BPA and ratepayers more than $100,000, according to a BPA press release.

While they couldn’t disclose the specific measures taken, the BPA spokesperson assured that the administration has implemented steps to enhance security since the 2022 attacks.

In December 2022, four Pierce County substations were targeted in one day, cutting power to around 14,000 utility customers, according to PBS, which spoke with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office.

Although authorities arrested separate suspects in connection with the Clackamas County and Pierce County electrical substation attacks, police are still investigating the recent incidents near Renton.

Alongside the cost of damage, John Hairston, the CEO and administrator of the BPA, highlighted the risks of unplanned outages.

“Unplanned power outages can range from minor inconveniences to life-threatening situations. Anyone attacking any component of the power grid should know they are jeopardizing the safety of others. This is a serious crime, and we are glad the individuals allegedly responsible have been caught,” he said in a statement.

In January 2022, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security report warned readers of extremists’ specific plans to attack electricity infrastructure, dating back as far as 2020.

Since then, “physical and cybersecurity attacks against energy infrastructure continue to threaten energy security,” according to a 2024 Department of Energy (DOE) report.

In 2023, Politico gathered Department of Energy data regarding power grid attacks and threats, and found incidents have doubled in Q1 of 2023 compared to Q1 of 2022. Since 2018 the number has only risen — except for a plateau in 2020 and 2021.

“These deliberate attacks on equipment take line workers and other personnel off task and cost ratepayers money,” said Covington district manager Stefan Schildt in a statement. “We are hoping anyone with information about who may have caused this damage will come forward and help bring that person or persons to justice.”

Anyone with additional information about these incidents can submit anonymous tips through Crime Stoppers. Either download and text through the P3 Tips app on a cellphone or call 800-222-8477 and refer to case #C23042408.