FERC has begun a formal, nonpublic investigation into whether any mandatory federal reliability standards were violated during the widespread power outage in Florida last month that affected as many 2.5 million people statewide.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said it has authorized its Office of Enforcement and Office of Electric Reliability to carry out the probe, with full subpoena power.

The Commission will coordinate its efforts with an existing investigation being conducted by the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) and the Florida Reliability Coordinating Council (FRCC), the agency noted. FERC staffers will share information and materials gathered during their investigation with NERC and FRCC. All information and documents will remain nonpublic until the Commission decides otherwise, FERC said.

Initial findings indicated that the cause of the Florida outages was human error, Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) said last month.

According to FPL, a field engineer who was diagnosing a switch that had malfunctioned at the company’s Flagami substation in west Miami disabled two levels of relay protection without authorization and contrary to FPL’s standard procedures and established practices. During the diagnostic process a fault occurred and, because both levels of relay protection had been removed, it caused an outage ultimately affecting 26 transmission lines and 38 substations, the company said (see NGI, March 3).

One of the substations affected served a pair of 693 MW nuclear units and a natural gas unit at FPL’s Turkey Point power station 25 miles south of Miami. Two other FPL generation plants were also affected, taking a total of 3,400 MW of generating capacity off the grid in a matter of minutes and knocking out power to an estimated one million customer accounts, including 584,000 FPL customer accounts, representing about 2.5 million people statewide.

An “event analysis team” led by the FRCC has been established to determine “the root cause of the equipment failure” that resulted in the power outages. The FRCC team includes one member from NERC, an observer from FERC, an observer from the Florida Public Service Commission and several industry experts from Seminole Electric, Progress Energy Florida, Tampa Electric Co. and FPL. The investigation is expected to take several months.

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