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Feds Order Review of Operator Training, Mull Reactive Power

Feds Order Review of Operator Training, Mull Reactive Power

Federal energy regulators last Wednesday directed over 100 control area operators and transmission providers to report back to the Commission on training practices through a survey. FERC said that by understanding these practices better, the overall reliability of the grid can be improved.

Reports from the specified control area operators and transmission providers must be submitted to the Commission by Jan. 31, 2005. As with a vegetation management order issued in April by FERC, a timely report will be submitted to Congress once the information provided in the survey is analyzed.

The order, issued at FERC's last open meeting of 2004, is part of the Commission's overall efforts to ensure power grid reliability in the U.S. in the wake of the Aug. 14, 2003 blackout that affected some 50 million people in the U.S. Midwest and Northeast and in Ontario, Canada.

The U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force final report, issued in April 2004, found that operator performance was among the root causes of the blackout. The binational task force report found that "deficiencies in operator performance that contributed to the blackout included lack of situational awareness, failure of personnel to declare an emergency, and failure to take appropriate action to ensure that the bulk electric system remained in a secure and reliable state," the Commission noted.

Another outage factor identified in the blackout report, vegetation management practices, was addressed by the Commission in an order issued in April 2004 requiring entities that own, operate or control designated transmission facilities to report their vegetation management practices to the Commission. At that time, FERC also set forth a policy statement on power system reliability (PL04-5).

In fiscal year 2004 and again in fiscal year 2005, Congress earmarked $5 million in the Commission's budget for grid-reliability matters. As a result, a new Division of Reliability was created in the Commission's Office of Markets, Tariffs and Rates to develop policies, programs and strategies to promote and facilitate the reliable and secure operation of the nation's bulk electric power market.

FERC Chairman Pat Wood queried Commission staff as to how long they expect it will take for the various operators and transmission providers to complete the surveys. In response, a FERC staffer said that it shouldn't take more than two hours for an entity to complete the survey. "Most of the questions are 'yes, no, I don't know' type of questions," the Commission staff member noted.

"I think this really is a good diagnostic tool that everyone can use -- everyone in the system," added FERC Commissioner Nora Brownell.

In a related development, FERC staff presented a report to the Commission entitled, "Market Design Principles for Reactive Power," which describes the role of reactive power in establishing reliable power systems. Reactive power supports the voltages that must be controlled for system reliability.

The report discusses regulatory policy and reactive power pricing and market design, and looks at the physical characteristics and costs of producing reactive power. It also sets forth a number of questions for public consumption and comment, to further the debate on this topic.

"This is a big issue," said FERC Chairman Pat Wood. "It certainly was a ground zero issue in Cleveland and we've got to get it right, we owe the people of the country the opportunity to give us feedback here, but urgency is needed."

The joint U.S.-Canada task force said that FirstEnergy and the utility's reliability coordinator, the East Central Area Reliability Council, failed to assess and understand the inadequacies of FirstEnergy's system, particularly with respect to voltage instability and the vulnerability of the Cleveland-Akron area, and FirstEnergy did not operate its system with appropriate voltage criteria.

The Commission will hold a technical conference to address the reactive power issue on March 3, 2005. The report will be available on the Commission's web site, www.ferc.gov, in January.

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