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FERC proposes new rule to guard electric grid against solar storms

Kevin M. Downey

Kevin M. Downey,

Washington, D.C.

23 October 2012
FERC has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) to address the potential impact of geomagnetic disturbances (GMD) on the reliable operation of the electric grid.  FERC proposes to require the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to develop standards to address GMD impacts and submit the standards for FERC approval.  Public comments on the NOPR will be due within 60 days of its publication in the Federal Register (sometime in late October 2012).
FERC proposes new rule to guard electric grid against solar storms

A GMD event occurs when the magnetic field embedded in the solar wind is opposite to that of the earth, resulting in distortions to the earth’s magnetic field.  The NOPR cites a number of recent government-sponsored studies and NERC studies that conclude that a GMD event could have widespread adverse effects on the reliability of the bulk-power system.  GMD events can develop quickly over large geographic areas, producing widespread blackouts and significant damage to transformers.  The potential economic impact to the United States of a severe GMD event has been estimated at $1-2 trillion.

FERC proposes an aggressive two-stage approach for the development of reliability standards to address GMDs:

  • Within 90 days of the effective date of a final rule, NERC would be required to file one or more reliability standards requiring owners and operators of the bulk-power system to develop and implement operational procedures to mitigate the effects of GMDs, consistent with reliable operation of the bulk-power system.  The procedures should also address restoration of GMD-impacted portions of the grid, taking into account the potential for equipment that is damaged or out of service for long periods of time.  Also during this first stage, FERC proposes to require NERC to evaluate critical grid facilities for GMD vulnerability, with special attention to those facilities that provide service to critical and priority loads.
  • Within six months of the effective date of a final rule, NERC would be required to file one or more reliability standards requiring owners and operators of the bulk-power system to conduct initial and ongoing assessments of the potential impact of GMDs on bulk-power system equipment and the bulk-power system as a whole.  Based on these assessments, the standards would require owners and operators to develop and implement plans to protect against adverse impacts from a GMD.  The plans would need to go beyond operational procedures and enhanced training, and incorporate strategies for protecting against the potential impact of GMDs, including the installation of automatic blocking measures.  FERC proposes that these plans be implemented in phases, with the initial focus on more critical and vulnerable assets.

Although strong GMDs occur infrequently, FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur noted in a statement issued in conjunction with adoption of the NOPR that GMDs “are an acute example of ‘High Impact Low Frequency’ events, which…are among the most difficult, but also the most necessary, to address through standards.”

Kevin M. Downey

Kevin M. Downey,

Washington, D.C.

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