Completing a process that began six years ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last week unanimously adopted a final rule on reliability standards to address the threat to the grid from geomagnetic disturbances (GMD). FERC has been working on the issue since September 2010, Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur noted at the meeting.
The new FERC rule gives guidance to the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) for industry-wide standards. LaFleur has led the commission’s efforts to respond to the solar disturbances, which pose a low-probability but potentially high-impact threats to the nation’s electrical grid. A strong solar storm in 1989 caused severe damage to the transformer at the Salem 1 nuclear plant in New Jersey, although the unit remained in service.
Now the Real Work Begins
LaFleur noted at the Sept. 22 meeting that the rule “is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning,” as much work will face the industry in writing the standards and complying with them.
In a written statement, LaFleur said she believes the new rule “appropriately balances the need for action on this important issue with a recognition that our understanding of the science around GMD events and their operational impacts on the grid is still evolving.”
FERC’s final GMD rule follows a May 2015 proposal and addresses the second of a two-stage process through which NERC will develop the actual standards for those covered entities. FERC approved NERC’s proposed standards but directed the reliability organization to make some changes. Among them, those covered by the standards must assess their vulnerability to a “benchmark GMD event,” described as a “one-in-100 year” event. If they don’t meet the standards, they must “develop a corrective action plan.”
Covered entities—defined in a FERC press release as “certain transmission and generation owners, planning coordinators, and transmission planners”—must have grid system models as part of their vulnerability analyses, have “criteria for acceptable steady-state voltage performance during a benchmark GMD event,” and “complete vulnerability assessments” every five years.
Last FERC Action for Clark
The meeting was also the last for Tony Clark, who leaves the commission after four years. FERC consists of five commissioners, three from the president’s political party and two from the opposition. Clark was the lone Republican on the commission following last year’s departure of Philip Moeller (now a senior vice president at the Edison Electric Institute), leaving three Democrats (Chairman Norman Bay and commissioners LaFleur and Colette Honorable) and two vacancies. Clark was a popular and personable commissioner, always civil in his disagreements with the commission and willing to compromise.
An avid baseball (and Chicago Cubs) fan, Clark wore his Cubs tie to his last meeting. Bay presented him with a bobble-head doll (which looked remarkably like Clark), noting that “an all-star like you deserves to have a bobble-head.” Playing off of Clark’s love for his North Dakota State University alma mater and the Bison athletic teams, LaFleur gave Clark a World Wildlife Fund bison adoption certificate, noting that the animal now bearing his name is grazing on the Northern Great Plains. Honorable, knowing Clark’s deep Republican roots, said she enjoyed working with him, and that it demonstrated that we are “stronger together,” as she awarded him a Hillary Clinton team coffee mug.
—Kennedy Maize is a long-time energy journalist and frequent contributor to POWER.