Authorities in charge of the state’s power grid are urging South Bay residents and businesses to conserve electricity in light of severe vandalism that occurred overnight at a PG&E substation just outside of San Jose. The California Independent System Operator issued a Flex Alert asking those in Santa Clara County and Silicon Valley to cut down on their electricity use until midnight, including by lowering lighting, turning off thermostats and powering down unnecessary appliances.
In apparent acts of “sabotage” in the South Bay early today, someone cut fiber optic cables, knocking out some 911 service, and then fired a rifle at a PG&E substation, Santa Clara County’s sheriff said. The vandal’s objective appears to have been “shutting down the system,” Sheriff Laurie Smith said at a news conference at the substation this afternoon.
“We don’t have a suspect,” she said. “It seems like the same perpetrator or perpetrators to me.” Both incidents happened early this morning in the area of Metcalf Road and Monterey Highway, just southeast of San Jose city limits. The underground cables, protected by manhole covers, were cut shortly before 1:30 a.m. in two locations along Monterey Highway, Smith said.
Some of the cables, comprised of bundled fiber optic cords, were cut near Monterey Highway and Coyote Ranch Road, AT&T spokesman George Ross said. He said the cables there are AT&T lines but that some other service providers piggyback off of them. A number of South Bay customers lost landline and cellphone service, and the damage also initially knocked out some 911 call systems in the area.
At about 1:45 a.m., the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and San Jose police received reports of gunfire in the area of Monterey Highway and Blanchard Road, sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Kurtis Stenderup said. Officers and deputies responded but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. Two hours later, PG&E contacted the sheriff’s office to report a problem at the utility’s substation in the 100 block of Metcalf Road, near where the gunfire was reported.
PG&E officials told the sheriff’s office that the substation’s security fence had been breached, at least five transformers had been damaged and that hazardous materials had spilled, Stenderup said. PG&E spokesman JD Guidi said oil had leaked from a transformer bank, but that the leak had been contained. “We are currently on site assessing the magnitude of the vandalism and the impact,” he said.
He said there was bullet damage to the substation and that the sheriff’s office is investigating the incident. “It does appear that there were gunshots to our facility,” he said. He said the vandalism didn’t cause any power outages. Jason King, another PG&E spokesman, said the leaked material was “the cooling oil that cools our electrical equipment there.” California ISO officials said equipment at the substation may need to be taken out of service as crews continue to assess the damage, which will limit transmission capacity.
Authorities are investigating whether the substation vandalism is related to another incident in which someone cut phone cables in that same area, near Monterey Highway and Coyote Ranch Road, partially disabling 911 service in the South Bay. Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jim Crawford said fire crews responded to the substation and were standing by to assist PG&E if needed.
“The majority of the spill is contained within their facility and it’s not spreading,” Crawford said. He said Monterey Highway was shut down between Metcalf and Blanchard roads; Metcalf was closed between Monterey and Malech Road; and Malech was shut down at Bailey Road. No injuries were reported.
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