A Washington Man Pleads Not Guilty In Connection With 2022 Attacks On An Oregon Electrical Grid

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A Washington state man has pleaded not guilty to federal charges accusing him of damaging power substations in Oregon in 2022.

Nathaniel Cheney appeared in federal court in Portland on Wednesday and was later released from custody, the Oregonian/OregonLive reported. He was arrested April 2 after he was indicted in March on two counts of damage to an energy facility.

Charging documents allege Cheney broke into the Ostrander substation in Oregon City on Nov. 24, 2022, and “knowingly and willfully damaged” the Sunnyside Substation in Clackamas four days later.

At the Oregon City substation, Cheney and an unidentified accomplice are accused of cutting a perimeter fence and shooting at pieces of equipment, according to a Bonneville Power Administration security memo sent to law enforcement after the vandalism.

In early 2022, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security report warned that domestic extremists had been developing “credible, specific plans” to attack electricity infrastructure since at least 2020 in part, a federal law enforcement official said, because outages may result in frustration and divisions within American society.

Vandalism at three power substations in western Washington in December 2022 cut power to thousands of utility customers, while a fourth substation was vandalized on Christmas Day, also cutting electricity for thousands. In all four cases, someone forced their way into the fenced area surrounding the substations and damaged equipment to cause power outages, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said at the time.

Prosecutors have said in the Christmas Day attack the two men who pleaded guilty wanted to cut power to break into ATMs and businesses and steal money.

Two power substations in North Carolina were also damaged in December 2022 by gunfire that took nearly a week to repair and left tens of thousands of people without electricity. A bill was signed into law in North Carolina last year that increases punishments for intentionally damaging utility equipment.

Law enforcement has not suggested or provided evidence that any of the cases are directly connected and investigators have not specified a motive for the substation vandalism in Oregon.