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Grid Operators Well Prepared for COVID-19, Alert Responses Show

April 1, 2020
Responses reflect industry attention toward potential vulnerabilities that could arise because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The industry is well prepared and taking aggressive steps to confront the threat posed by the current pandemic, responses to the North American Electric Reliability Corp.'s (NERC) level 2 alert showed. The alert, sent to the industry on March 10, required the industry to respond to the NERC by March 20.

A vast majority of registered entities indicated that they either have a written pandemic response plan or are in the process of developing one in light of the COVID-19 crisis, an unprecedented event for bulk power system operators in North America. In addition, utilities responded to the NERC's Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center's (E-ISAC) early February all-points bulletin and have reviewed their supply chains to develop plans to deal with potential equipment shortfalls.

Responses reflect industry attention toward potential vulnerabilities that could arise because of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The NERC is also conducting a weekly situational awareness call with the continent's reliability coordinators, who have generally activated their backup control centers, isolated key workers, and are maintaining a deep cleaning routine.

Key takeaways from the alert include:

  • Pandemic planning is pervasive across the registered entities.
  • A majority of registered entities have reviewed pandemic staffing requirements.
  • A large majority of registered entities have reviewed supply chain needs.
  • More than half of registered entities said they would support mutual aid requests.
  • Utilities identified risks such as staffing shortages, material shortages, and the ability to complete major construction projects and maintenance turnarounds, which could lead to some constraints over the summer. All of this reinforces the need for continuous monitoring, planning, and coordination.

"The good news during this public health emergency is the fact that the industry is prepared and has done its due diligence toward contingency planning in order to keep the lights on," said Jim Robb, the NERC's president and chief executive officer. "The industry has come together to protect the health and well-being of its workforce while still being focused on providing customers with the electricity they rely on. Importantly, a majority responded that they will be able to support mutual aid, a key consideration as we move into the spring and summer storm season."

The NERC provided the report as an informational filing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The NERC also is working on a more comprehensive assessment of potential reliability risks and considerations because of the unusual operating conditions presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. The assessment targets pandemic preparedness and operational assessment of spring 2020 conditions and will also share lessons learned from system operators around the world, including Italy.

The report to the FERC builds on a series of NERC and industry pandemic response actions. They include:

  • NERC, FERC guidance to the industry on ensuring grid reliability amid potential coronavirus impacts.
  • A public level 2 alert on how the industry can address potential coronavirus impacts.

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