FERC dam safety program to use risk-informed decision making

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued a five-year strategic plan containing goals including use of risk-informed decision making in its dam safety program.

Chairman Jon Wellinghoff delivered the Strategic Plan FY 2009-2014 to congressional leaders Oct. 1, 2009, saying the agency plans to align its strategic goals and objectives more closely with its statutory authority. (HydroWorld 4/20/09) The plan has two overall goals: to ensure that rates, terms, and conditions are just, reasonable, and not unduly discriminatory; and to promote development of safe, reliable, and efficient infrastructure that serves the public interest.

Under its infrastructure-related goal, FERC said it proposes, by fiscal year 2014, that risk-informed decision making will be incorporated into the FERC dam safety program.

“The dam safety program involves physical safety inspections and also applies advances in technology to address the technical challenges presented by aging national water resources infrastructure,” the strategic plan said.

In FY 2009, the commission explored how risk assessment methodologies could benefit its dam safety program. It determined that risk assessment could help FERC:
o Better understand and quantify potential failure modes;
o Identify previously unidentified failure modes with high risk;
o Understand consequences of potential failure modes on life, health, and property;
o Understand the uncertainty and variability in traditional analyses;
o Understand the risk associated with a single dam or the commission’s entire inventory of dams;
o Compare the safety of different dams using a common basis, risk;
o Compare the relative contribution to risk of all failure modes at a given dam; and
o Evaluate risk reduction alternatives and effectively reduce the risk that commission-jurisdictional dams pose to the public in quantifiable and defensible terms.

FERC said the Bureau of Reclamation has been a leader in the development of dam safety risk assessment methodologies and uses a risk-informed decision making process in the continuous evaluation of the safety of its dams. FERC added that the Corps of Engineers, in cooperation with BuRec and FERC staff, has developed policy and procedure documents to guide risk-informed decision making by the Corps.

The strategic plan said FERC would develop an action plan in FY 2010 that could lead to incorporating risk-informed decision making into its dam safety program. In FY 2011, it is to prepare a portfolio risk assessment of FERC’s dam inventory.

“Through this high-level process of assessing each dam, staff will be able to identify high-risk dams that need more urgent attention,” the plan said. “… By using risk-informed decision making, the commission will be able to focus its resources on those structures that pose the greatest risk.”

However, FERC said the risk assessment program would not replace its other more traditional methods such as commission staff dam inspections or independent engineering consultant inspections of dams.

Strategic Plan addresses renewables, ancillary services

Other facets of the strategic plan affecting hydropower include a performance goal that by FY 2014, FERC will finalize reliability parameters that could affect plans to increase penetration of renewable energy resources on the transmission grid. The plan also says, by FY 2014, 50 percent of all transmission projects will incorporate advanced technologies, including “smart grid” technologies. (HydroWorld 7/20/09)

In the past year, pumped-storage hydropower has received renewed attention by FERC and the Department of Energy as a technology to support additions of intermittent generation to transmission grids from renewable energy sources. (HydroWorld 7/1/09)

The plan also said FERC will explore and, as appropriate, implement market reforms that will allow renewable resources to compete fairly in commission-jurisdictional markets.

The plan lists another performance goal that all resources capable of providing needed ancillary services will have the opportunity to provide those services. Pumped-storage and conventional hydropower are known for providing ancillary services such as energy storage, spinning reserves, network frequency control, and black start capability. (Hydro Review, July 2009)

FERC’s Strategic Plan 2009-2014 may be obtained from FERC’s Internet site, www.ferc.gov, under www.ferc.gov/about/strat-docs/FY-09-14-strat-plan-print.pdf.

For information, contact Office of the Executive Director, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First St., N.E., Washington, DC 20426; (1) 866-208-3372; E-mail: customer@ferc.gov.

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