The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)—which notes that geomagnetic disturbances (GMD) can have potentially severe, widespread impact on the bulk electric power system—has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) to approve its first reliability standard concerning GMD operations.
The NOPR issued on Jan. 16 concerning Reliability Standard EOP-010-1 is designed to mitigate the effects of geomagnetic disturbances on the bulk power system, whose operations FERC oversees. In May last year, FERC ordered the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), the FERC-approved electric reliability organization, to develop the standards.
The directive has two stages. The first requires NERC to submit one or more reliability standards within six months of Order No. 779’s effective date that require owners and operators of the bulk power system to “develop and implement operational procedures to mitigate the effects of GMDs consistent with the reliable operation of the Bulk-Power System.” The second requires NERC to submit one or more reliability standards within 18 months of Order 779’s effective date that require owners and operators of the bulk power system “to conduct initial and on-going assessments of the potential impact of benchmark GMD events” in bulk power systems equipment and the system as a whole.
If those assessments identify potential impacts from “benchmark GMD events,” the reliability standards should “require owners and operators to develop and implement a plan to protect against instability, uncontrolled separation, or cascading failures” of the bulk power system. The strategies could go beyond consideration of operational procedures and enhanced training to include automatically blocking geomagnetically induced currents (GIC) from entering the bulk power system, specifying requirements for new equipment, inventory management, isolating equipment that cannot be retrofitted cost-effectively, or some combination of these approaches.
FERC estimates the total annual increased burden for implementing the proposed reliability standard would be $238,800 (see table).
A summary by the Electric Infrastructure Security (EIS) Council of an April 30, 2012, FERC staff technical conference quoted many of those who spoke about the GMD threat and who assessed the results of studies looking at potential effects of a major GMD event.
Frank Koza, executive director, Support Operations, PJM Interconnection, called on power companies to take responsibility for the GMD risks for their systems. He proposed that each asset owner determine the overall health of extra high voltage transformers and develop GIC protection measures for vulnerable transformers.
John G. Kappenman of Storm Analysis Consultants noted that there are no existing standards for GIC protection for transformers. “Even in transformers that are supposedly built to have GIC withstand, manufacturers are not able to physically test them to the withstand,” he said.
In a report issued in March 2012, NERC said that a loss of reactive power would be the most likely outcome of a severe solar storm resulting in a GMD.
However, in his April 2012 testimony, Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, who spent much of his career on issues concerning security and electromagnetic pulse effects, argued that the consequences were likely to be much more severe than NERC’s report acknowledged. He noted that FERC’s and other studies, “arrive at the scientific consensus that a great geomagnetic storm would cause widespread damage to power grid transformers, result in a protracted blackout lasting months or years, and have catastrophic consequences for society.”
John Houston, division senior vice president, high voltage delivery & compliance at CenterPoint Energy, warned the April 2012 gathering against complacency and making optimistic assumptions. He observed that even “[v]oltage collapse, while better than widespread damage, is still not good for our industry.”
In an October 2012 statement regarding the NOPR, FERC Commissioner (now Acting Chairman) Cheryl LaFleur said, “Just as our society has over the centuries developed standards to protect elements of our infrastructure from high impact low frequency events like earthquakes and fires, I believe we must begin to address the challenge of making our electric grid resilient to geomagnetic disturbances. This is an issue in which I have taken a strong personal interest. As I have observed, the threat of geomagnetic disturbances damaging the power grid sounds like science fiction, but is in fact based on scientific fact. However, while the fact that geomagnetic disturbances can cause substantial harm to the electric grid is undisputed, the way in which that harm would occur is not without controversy. The technical community has debated whether geomagnetic disturbances caused by solar events would cause the bulk electric system to break apart due to excessive reactive power consumption, cause damage to high-voltage transformers and other key elements of the system due to inductive currents, or some combination of the two. Any of these results is unacceptable, and is exactly the sort of cascading disturbance to the bulk power system that section 215 of the Federal Power Act requires us to address.”
Comments on the proposed standard are due to FERC 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. The standard would become effective at the beginning of the first quarter that falls six months after the standard is approved.
—Gail Reitenbach, PhD, Editor (@GailReit, @POWERmagazine)