ST. PAUL (AP) -- Although government officials regard power plants as prime targets for terrorists, Northern States Power-Minnesota has eliminated security guards at its metro-area generating plants to cut costs, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Tuesday.
Current and former NSP employees who work in the facilities told the newspaper that anyone can enter the grounds of NSP's gas- or coal-fired power plants any time of day and remain undetected by those in the plant.
"Anybody with a bomb could drive right into the center of the plant, the main body of that plant, and blow the whole plant up," said one former generating-plant employee. Like the other workers interviewed for this story, he spoke with the Pioneer Press and provided documents only on the condition that his name not be published.
A spokesman for NSP's parent company, Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, said the company was limited in what it could say because it didn't want to compromise security. The company declined to make any executives available for comment to the newspaper but issued a statement saying that its plants were monitored around the clock and that Xcel had spent $4 million on "new and upgraded security systems" since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The security of power plants has been a concern since the attacks. Government officials say there is a need to safeguard the nation's energy infrastructure, including generating plants, power lines, refineries, pipelines and other facilities.
NSP's system provides electricity to 1.3 million customers.
According to interviews and public records, Xcel started getting rid of security guards at its non-nuclear power plants in January 2001 in an effort to cut expenses within NSP.
Immediately after the attacks, Xcel posted security guards at the plants, but it did so only under directives from the FBI, according to government documents. Employees told the Pioneer Press the guards were gone by the start of this year.
The utility's two nuclear plants must meet strict federal requirements governing security. But it appears no federal or state agencies govern security at conventional plants, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy.
NSP is being investigated by state regulators after employees told the Pioneer Press that the company was altering records on power failures in an attempt to meet state-mandated reliability standards.
Workers told the newspaper that budget cuts at NSP have reduced the quality of service, and that shaving time off the records was the only way the utility could avoid fines for not meeting the standards. The company has said it adjusts the power failure duration figures to remove errors, not to mislead regulators.
On Wednesday, the state's Public Utilities Commission will examine whether NSP's service is being affected by the financial problems at another Xcel subsidiary, NRG Energy. NRG, which generates and sells electricity on the open market, is $9 billion in debt, missed $72 million on bond payments last week and is teetering on bankruptcy.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.