The Electric Grid

At the December 6, 2013 Dupont Summit Conference of the Infragard EMP-SIG, presenters highlighted technologies and policy recommendations aimed at protecting the electric grid against potentially catastrophic events, such as a solar storm or the detonation of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon. An important policy question that arose from these presentations was whether electric utilities should remain the primary source of expertise and new reliability standards to mitigate risks of grid collapse and associated grid blackouts?

Should states act to set state reliability standards to protect grids from solar storms and other EMP hazards, absent preemption by federal reliability standards?  The Federal Power Act enables federal regulation of the bulk power system together with a largely deregulated electric generation sector. After being amended following the Northeast blackout of August 2003, the Federal Power Act also gives states authority to set higher reliability or safety standards if not in conflict with federal reliability standards. See savings provisions for states, 16 USC 824o(i).  Furthermore, because states retain police powers for essential public safety, they retain considerable regulatory authority over energy facilities in their states.

As protective technologies become cost-effective within state electric grids, off-grid data centers or other centers of off-grid power, should the states take their own initiatives to improve in-state grid reliability without harming reliability in other states?

In June 2013 the legislature of the State of Maine enacted legislation (LD 131) requiring the Maine Public Utilities Commission to develop a report assessing the vulnerability of Maine’s transmission and distribution system to solar storms or man-made electromagnetic pulse; to identify the impacts of requiring mitigation measures, together with their costs during ongoing new construction and retrofitting of transmission lines in the State of Maine; and to obtain federal assistance to coordinate future federal and state reliability policies. The subsequent Draft Report by the Maine PUC summarized costs (about $4.2 million) to protect high voltage transformers which, if left unprotected, could result in Maine grid outages for months or perhaps years. Despite minimal costs per electric customer, the Maine PUC proposes deferral of state reliability standards and awaits future FERC standards that, in turn, depend upon utility-proposed standards and utility-favored technologies. Stakeholders may submit comments and evidentiary materials through a December 18th deadline so as to improve a mandatory Report to the state legislature due on January 20, 2014