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The Rush to Reliability

FERC races to impose NERC’s new rules, raising howls of protest in the process.

Fortnightly Magazine - February 2007

NERC suggests that FERC’s expanded definition focuses more on smaller entities and thus sets its sights on a somewhat different target—that being the problem of significant losses of retail load at the customer level. Thus, as NERC explains, FERC is confusing system reliability with supply adequacy—a requirement more commonly thought of as falling under state PUC purview.

And with lack of supply come the losses of load and service that bring disruptions to local economic activities, plus notorious coverage in the popular press, and tend to draw more attention from Congress, as compared with problems associated with the actual grid system, as a functioning machine.

The American Public Power Association echoes NERC’s thinking. It wonders whether FERC’s vision of reliability is tied more to law, or instead to how “newsworthy” the blackout might be. Consider the following quote, taken from pp. 37-38 of APPA’s NOPR comments, filed on Jan. 3:

“APPA notes in particular note 53 of the NOPR. The commission there observes that New York City’s 138-kV system is not included in the [Northeast] definition of the bulk electric system, and that certain 230-kV and 69-kV transmission facilities serving Washington, D.C., are not included in the [Mid-Atlantic] definition. …

“The commission nowhere explains why it thinks it needs to superimpose its own reliability jurisdiction of such facilities, which serve discrete (albeit newsworthy) load centers already subject to state reliability jurisdiction.”

Perhaps what we have here is a new regulatory paradigm, driven not by the terms of the Federal Power Act, but by FERC’s fear of being called on the carpet on Capitol Hill.