(Muir Analytics’ Quick Brief is broadly based on the Pentagon EXSUM briefing method. The aim is to quickly explain an evolving hotel threat issue in about 15 lines in executive summary format. Muir has added a quick analysis of the issue that can help hotels mitigate certain risks.)
Local Las Vegas 8NewsNow reports that on Tuesday, 3 January 2023, a man rammed his car into the MGM Mega Solar Array and set his vehicle on fire, severely damaging the facility. MGM’s properties in Las Vegas, including its hotel casinos, were not physically damaged. Authorities arrested the perpetrator on terrorism charges.
Chain of events
- In the late afternoon of 3 January, Mohammad Mesmarian, a 35-year-old male, drove his Toyota Camry (with Idaho plates) through the MGM Mega Solar Array’s gates (or fence) after its operators had left work for the day.
- The facility is located 30 miles northeast of Las Vegas on US 93 (north of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.)
- Invenergy runs the plant (640 acres, 323,000 solar panels, says The Nevada Independent), which provides 100 megawatts of power to all MGM’s 13 properties in Las Vegas – reportedly, this equates to 90% of MGM’s daytime power needs for its casinos and more than 36,000 hotel rooms.
- Investigators believe at some point, Mesmarian siphoned gas from his car and used it to set the facility’s transformer on fire.
- CCTV showed Mesmarian setting his car on fire at 12:00 am on 4 January.
- He then sat for 15 minutes, watching the car burn.
- Mesmarian then walked away from the scene as the fire spread to the facility, specifically, its generator pit.
- Employees discovered the damage the next morning, and investigators were on the scene by 11:30 am Wednesday.
- Police found an iPhone in the burned-out car along with two laptops, which, along with CCTV footage, helped link Mesmarian to the crime.
- Police arrested Mesmarian on 5 January at a campground at Lake Mead’s Boulder Beach.
- Under questioning, Mesmarian said he believed he had set a Tesla solar plant on fire and that he committed the crime “for the future.”
- Police charged Mesmarian with A) committing an act of terrorism, B) arson, C) destroying or injuring real or personal property of another valued at $5,000 or more, and D) escape by a felony prisoner, says 8NewsNow and the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
- The FBI joined the investigation in support of the Las Vegas Police Department, says the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
- Invengery said it was “currently restoring the facility’s full operations,” but an employee told the press and police, “the fire caused ‘major damage’,” and that it would “take two years to receive replacement parts,” and the facility was not producing electricity.
- This attack comes on the heels of scores of other recent energy grid attacks throughout the US, including, but not limited to, substations in Washington, Oregon, North Carolina, and Florida.
There are four takeaways. First, the tactics used, a vehicle attack and arson, were effective. The perpetrator shut down the plant – exact timeframe unknown, maybe for an extended period – which was a major green energy asset to MGM’s 13 Las Vegas properties.
Second, strategically, even though it does not seem that the perpetrator aimed to financially and physically damage MGM, he probably financially damaged MGM, anyway. Here’s how:
- With the solar farm, says The Nevada Independent, MGM’s daytime energy bills had significantly decreased, which lowered overhead costs and increased profits.
- Without the solar farm, MGM’s daytime energy bills for its 13 properties and over 36,000 hotel rooms will probably rely on natural gas, the primary source of electricity in Nevada.
- While it is a clean-burning fuel, natural gas costs in the have US increased over 65% since 2021.
- Relying on natural gas, MGM’s utility costs might rise as high as 25% (rough estimation).
The 25% figure comes from recently increased utility costs incurred by Golden Entertainment, which relies on natural gas for its three properties in Las Vegas and five other properties elsewhere in Nevada, says The Nevada Independent.
Third, from an enterprise risk management view, this case demonstrates hotels, hotel casinos, and resorts need to ensure they have effective security protecting their renewable energy facilities. The perpetrator here was on property and unchallenged for several hours while he committed his crimes. Remote fence line monitoring and smart CCTV would have helped even if no security guards were physically on site.
Fourth, and related to point three, while it does not outwardly appear the Invenergy attack was connected to the many recent substation attacks elsewhere in the US, it would behoove energy plants and their customers to pay attention to attack targeting trends – threat intelligence – in their industry and take appropriate defense measures.
Muir Analytics runs the world’s largest, most sophisticated hotel violence database – the SecureHotel Threat Portal – with over 2,400 hotel attacks (and growing.) We can provide the hospitality sector with intelligence that facilitates full-spectrum risk reduction, which helps hotels protect guests, staff, buildings, brands, and revenues. Contact us for a consultation: 1-833-DATA-444.
Sources and further reading:
“FBI joins investigation of terror attack on MGM Mega Solar Array,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 9 January 2023.
“Man faces terror charge for damaging power plant outside Las Vegas,” 8NewsNow, 6 January 2022.
“Increased energy costs cut into Nevada casino company profits in Q3,” The Nevada Independent, 22 November 2022.
“Invenergy Solar Project Lights Up Las Vegas Strip,” Invenergy, 28 June 2021.
Copyright©Muir Analytics 2023