NERC blackout investigation nears completion

Feb. 10, 2004 — NERC’s investigation of the August 14 blackout is nearly complete. The initial phase of the investigation focused on developing a detailed sequence of events and identifying root causes of the uncontrolled cascade of the power system.

NERC assisted the U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force in data gathering and analysis during that phase, which culminated with the interim blackout report issued in November.

The government task force is in the process of developing its final report, which will contain recommendations resulting from the public comment process, including those provided by NERC. It is expected that their report will be available in March. NERC will also issue a technical report presenting the full details of the investigation for widespread industry use.

The majority of NERC’s technical analysis was completed in January, with the exception of some dynamic simulations of the transient portion of the power system cascade and follow-up compliance audits that will be conducted in February. NERC’s analysis focused on both the human and electric system failures that led to the blackout, and on gathering industry feedback on recommendations to minimize the chances of future large-scale blackouts. The NERC Steering Group and investigation teams have concluded that:

• Several entities violated NERC operating policies and planning standards, and those violations contributed directly to the start of the cascading blackout.

• The existing process for monitoring and assuring compliance with NERC and regional reliability standards was inadequate to identify and resolve specific compliance violations before those violations led to a cascading blackout.

• Reliability coordinators and control areas have adopted different interpretations of the functions, responsibilities, authorities, and capabilities needed to operate a reliable power system.

• Deficiencies identified in studies of prior large-scale blackouts were not addressed, including poor vegetation management, inadequate operator training, and inadequate tools to enable system operators to visualize system conditions in real-time.

• In some regions, data used to model loads and generators were inaccurate due to a lack of verification with actual system data and field-testing.

• Planning studies, design assumptions, and facilities ratings were not consistently shared and were not subject to adequate peer review.

• Available system protection technologies were not consistently applied to optimize the ability to slow or stop a cascading power system failure.

NERC held a special meeting of the standing committees in January to gather additional input on these findings. The committees supported the recommendations and made a number of suggestions to strengthen and sharpen their intent.

NERC also jointly sponsored with the government task force two industry technical conferences in Toronto and Philadelphia. These activities resulted in the development of a set of proposed recommendations for approval by the NERC Board of Trustees. Click here to view these recommendations.

The recommendations are organized into three areas:

• Corrective Actions directed at the parties cited in the November 19 Interim Report as responsible for causing the blackout.

• Strategic Initiatives that NERC and the regional reliability councils must take to strengthen compliance with existing standards and to formally track completion of recommendations from this investigation and from investigations of other significant power system events.

• Technical Initiatives to prevent or mitigate the impacts of future cascading blackouts.

The investigation team also identified instances where the power system operated well beyond normal design limits. This included severe under-frequency and out-of-step operations. NERC notified system operators of these extreme conditions and requested that owners and operators pay close attention to their equipment in the coming months to detect any possible damage that may present a risk to reliability for the coming summer season.

Immediately following the February board meeting, NERC will inform the industry and the public concerning the actions approved by the board to ensure that going forward there is clear direction on the actions necessary to preserve the reliability of the bulk electric system. – Gerry Cauley and Dave Hilt

NERC Acts to Strengthen Compliance Enforcement Program

NERC developed a number of recommendations as a result its blackout investigation. Recommendation #2 requires that NERC review and update its compliance templates and submit any modifications or new templates to the Board of Trustees for approval by March 31, 2004.

The compliance templates will be available for immediate use by the Compliance Enforcement Program to measure compliance with existing NERC planning standards and operating policies.

To accomplish this task, NERC established the Compliance Template Task Force. The task force will rely extensively on compliance templates previously approved by the board, as well as existing draft templates.

Focus will be on compliance with major reliability issues framed in the standard authorization requests (SARs) that have been submitted in the standards development process, and augmented by any issues arising from the August 14 blackout investigation.

The resulting compliance templates will be consistent with existing planning standards and operating policies and will interpret the intent of these standards and policies to provide necessary measurable and enforceable provisions.

Given the urgency of this assignment, the compliance templates will not cover all aspects of the planning standards and operating policies. Nor will they include a section on penalties or sanctions, which will be addressed separately. For more information on this important initiative, click here. – Ellen Vancko.

Reliability Coordinator Responsibilities to be Clarified

The Operating Committee (OC) held a special meeting in January to review NERC’s recommendations arising from the August 14 blackout investigation.

As part of draft Recommendation 6, “Clarify NERC operating policies and procedures defining Reliability Coordinator and Control Area functions, responsibilities, and authorities,” the Operating Reliability Subcommittee (ORS) and Reliability Coordinator Working Group (RCWG) will clarify several operating policies that were implicated in the Interim Report on the blackout by the U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force.

The ORS and RCWG will present their proposed revisions at the March 2004 standing committee meetings for subsequent ballot to:

• Policy 5, “Emergency Operations,”

• Policy 6, “Operations Planning,”

• Policy 9, “Reliability Coordinator Procedures,” and

• Appendix 9D, “Reliability Coordinator Criteria and Functions.”

These revisions will include language that more clearly explains reliability coordinator responsibilities.

The ORS and RCWG are also developing policies to improve communications and data sharing among reliability coordinators and control areas. These policies address the use of the Interregional Security Network, Reliability Coordinator Information System, System Data Exchange, and Hotline. – Don Benjamin

Reliability Coordinators and Control Areas to Conduct Self-Assessments

At the OC’s request, NERC asked all control areas to conduct a self-assessment of their compliance with NERC operating policies. The Regional Reliability Councils distributed the self-assessment questionnaires and asked that each control area report in writing that it has completed the self-assessment and provide the status of any necessary corrective action, as well as any barriers to mitigating any non-compliance.

The Regions will provide a status report to the OC by March 10 and a final report by March 30, 2004.

Similarly, the OC asked all reliability coordinators to assess their compliance with NERC operating policies by March 10. In that analysis, the reliability coordinators are also to conduct a “gap” analysis and provide the following information for those areas where they are not in compliance:

• Their plan to become compliant with the operating policies,

• An identification of items with which they can be in compliance by this summer,

• Actions they are taking to ensure the reliability of the area under their purview, and

• Barriers preventing compliance with existing operating policies.

In early April, the Reliability Coordinator Plan Task Force will prepare a checklist of reliability coordinator expectations and responsibilities based on the results of these self-assessments as well as the policy revisions that the ORS and RCWG are developing. The reliability coordinators will be asked to conduct another review of their operations based on that checklist. – Don Benjamin

Source: NERC