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1997-11-25 23:23:06


New Government Move to Centralize the Grid



With y2k problems facing the power grid, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy are focusing on the key problems (in their view) of the future: (1) the de-regulation of electrical power generation and sales; (2) generation and sale of power by non-utilities. There is now talk about creating a centralized regulatory organization called (of course!) Independent System Operators.

One might imagine that the government would be concerning itself with more crucial matters, such as seeing that the power companies are y2k compliant. But that item is off the radar screen. (And speaking of radar screens, how is the FAA doing?)

This is a Nuclear Regulatory Commission document (Oct. 23).

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At present, grid control is decentralized; that is, each utility or a small group of utilities forms a control area containing a set of customers for which they are jurisdictionally responsible. There are approximately 150 of these control areas in the country. These control areas are organized in seven regional reliability councils (e.g., Mid-America Interconnected Network (MAIN) or Western Systems Coordinating Council (WSCC)) or various regional power pools (e.g., New England Power Pool (NEPOOL)).

On April 23 and 24, 1997, in separate but related meetings, the Commission was briefed by the staff and the representatives from the Department of Energy, Federal Electric Regulatory Commission, the electric power industry, coordinating councils, electric reliability councils, economic regulators, and industry groups on the issues related to electric grid reliability and utility restructuring. . . .

Two relatively new factors are emerging: non-utility generation and deregulation. It is anticipated that, in the future, power suppliers, whether utilities or independent power producers, will actively compete to sell electric power to customers who may be located anywhere on the power grid. Regional grid control would be the responsibility of centralized Independent System Operators (ISOs). The responsibilities and authority of an ISO as discussed in the referenced Commission meetings have yet to be defined, but it is expected that they will be charged with maintaining grid reliability to facilitate the marketing of power. It is also uncertain how, or even if, the current method of maintaining reliability through voluntary compliance with guidelines established by consensus will be established in the new utility structure. . . .

At this time, grid reliability is controlled nationally through a voluntary governance structure under the NERC and the regional reliability councils with limited Federal oversight at FERC and DOE. DOE has created a task force to study the reliability of the U.S. electric system and to consider whether efforts to date to maintain reliability are sufficient to ensure reliable operation in the future and whether there is a need for Federal legislation to increase Federal authority in this area.


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