FERC eyes power system protection from geomagnetic disturbances

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has ordered the development of reliability standards to protect the nation’s bulk electricity system from the effects of geomagnetic disturbances.

FERC recently announced it plans a technical conference July 9 on reliability of the bulk power system. In April, FERC issued a proposed rulemaking to update Critical Infrastructure Protection Reliability Standards by expanding cyber security standards for the bulk electricity system, including hydroelectric projects.

In a May 16 rulemaking (RM12-22), FERC directed the North American Electric Reliability Corp. to develop and submit new geomagnetic disturbance standards. In turn, utilities are required to comply with NERC reliability standards.

GMDs caused by solar events distort, with varying intensities, the earth’s magnetic field. They can have potentially severe, widespread effects on reliable grid operation, including blackouts and damage to critical or vulnerable equipment.

FERC identified issues to be addressed by NERC in the standards development process. In the first of two stages, NERC is to file within six months one or more reliability standards requiring owners and operators of the bulk power system to develop and implement operational procedures to mitigate GMD effects. The order also encourages implementation of the standards within six months of commission approval.

FERC also ordered NERC to conduct a geomagnetic disturbance vulnerability assessment and to identify facilities most at risk from a severe disturbance.

In the second stage, NERC has 18 months to file standards identifying “benchmark GMD events” that define the severity of GMD events that a responsible entity must assess for potential effects on the bulk power system. FERC said those standards must require owners and operators to assess the potential effects of specified benchmark GMD events on equipment and the system as a whole.

If those assessments identify potential effects from such events, FERC said the reliability standards should require a responsible entity to develop and implement plans to protect against instability, uncontrolled separation, or cascading failures of the system.

The final rule may be obtained from the FERC Internet site under http://www.ferc.gov/whats-new/comm-meet/2013/051613/E-5.pdf.

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