July 30, 2018
By Rod Kuckro, E&E News Reporter
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week will host a technical conference on grid reliability. Ellen M. Gilmer/E&E News
Federal regulators are set to hear from a roster of electricity industry leaders tomorrow on the challenges to maintaining reliable electricity service in the face of resilience concerns, cybersecurity threats, physical disruptions to the grid and increasing amounts of distributed energy resources such as solar.
The all-day technical conference at the headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington is a ritual in response to the annual "State of Reliability" report published by the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC).
NERC develops reliability standards for the nation's bulk power system, which is made up of generation and high-voltage transmission facilities and their control systems.
The annual conference is a chance for the industry to suggest changes or enhancements in the standards, especially against the experience of lessons learned following major events such as blackouts in 2003, 2008 and 2011.
The conference will feature four panels with 30 witnesses, the first of which will lead off with Jim Robb, the new CEO of NERC. Panelists will include representatives of the Canadian Electricity Association and Mexico's Energy Regulatory Commission, the Edison Electric Institute, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, the California Independent System Operator, Exelon Corp. and the American Public Power Association.
The most topical panel will look at resilience, a term whose definition defies universal agreement and which has become the underpinning of the Trump administration's argument that the loss of coal-fired and nuclear plants, with their on-site fuel supplies, threatens national security.
"A bulk power system that provides an adequate level of reliability is a resilient one," according to prepared remarks from Mark Lauby, NERC's senior vice president and chief reliability officer.
"Resilience is a performance characteristic of reliability. Therefore, improved reliability is completed through improvements to robustness, reliability degradation management, and system rebound and return" to normal operation after a disruption, he said.
NERC, Lauby said, will "continue to assess whether further activities are appropriate to support a resilient grid."
Wesley Yeomans, vice president for operations at the New York Independent System Operator, also will testify.
The New York ISO "does not currently face imminent resilience concerns that require immediate action," he said.
However, the grid operator "fully recognizes that technological developments, economic and environmental consideration, and public policies are transforming the electric grid," Yeomans said.
Therefore, "the NYISO takes no position, at this time, regarding whether incremental resilience-specific standards should be developed and implemented," he said.
Peter Brandien, vice president of system operations for ISO New England, will say that "the most pressing challenges to the resilience of the power system do not relate to transmission, but to the possibility that the region's generating fleet will not have, or be able to maintain the fuel they need to produce the power to meet system demand and maintain required reserves."
Brandien believes it would be helpful "to have NERC and industry standardization or guidance on the meaning of fuel security and for conducting fuel-security analysis."
The reliability report issued in June said U.S. power grid companies should expect dangerous cybersecurity intrusions to keep increasing, with adversaries seeking to break through defenses by infecting utilities' trusted suppliers (Energywire, June 22).
That conclusion undoubtedly will be explored at an afternoon panel on the evolving cybersecurity threat that will feature Patricia Hoffman, deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Energy, as well as officials from NERC's Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center, the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and Microsoft.
The fourth panel will explore challenges to managing the "new grid" brought about by changes in the mix of electric generation resources and power plant retirements.
Roy Jones, CEO of ElectriCities of North Carolina, will appear on behalf of the Large Public Power Council — the 26 largest state and municipal utilities.
In his testimony, Jones says that instead of developing new reliability standards, "LPPC members agree that FERC and NERC are better advised to focus on securing the necessary reliability attributes of generation than they are to focus on fuel type (e.g., coal, gas, nuclear, hydro, wind or solar)."
The event will be webcast.