WECC taking steps toward greater information sharing between regions

The Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) is taking steps to overcome some of the weaknesses, including inadequate operations planning, that led to the Sept. 8, 2011 blackout, which left 2.7 million customers without power in southern California, Arizona and Baja California.

Inadequate operations planning and a lack of real-time situational awareness were the two broad areas of weakness that contributed to the blackout, NERC senior vice president Dave Nevius told WECC’s board meeting in Portland, Ore., June 27.

Specific weaknesses included a lack of sharing of day-ahead study results, and inadequate “obtaining [of] information from neighboring balancing authorities and transmission operators including transmission outages, generation outages and schedules, load forecasts, [and] scheduled interchanges,” Nevius said.

To address the confidentiality-related issues of sharing such information, WECC is developing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) for balancing authorities, transmission operators, and itself as the reliability coordinator that will enable parties to have greater visibility into neighboring systems.

In a May 31 letter to WECC groups, CEO Mark Maher said it was clear that FERC and NERC are looking to WECC to provide greater breadth and depth of its situational awareness through “communicating study inputs and outputs to reliability entities in the Interconnection, and facilitating data-sharing.”

The NDA will provide protections that are necessary before open information sharing can take place, resulting in the “increased study modeling, visibility into critical sub-100 kV facilities, communicating study inputs and outputs to reliability entities in the interconnection” that FERC and NERC identified as steps needed to reduce the likelihood of future blackouts, Maher said.

Not having adequate real-time awareness of utilities’ own systems and neighboring systems was cited as a major contributing factor.

“Some of the affected entities’ studies did not adequately consider the status of external generation and transmission outages,” Nevius said. “They didn’t have that information available to them but they absolutely need it.”

“This is a very critical issue; one that arose in [the 2003 blackout] as well,” he said.

Nevius also said system planners and operators need to share their findings with each other. “It’s no good to be planning in a vacuum or in a theoretical world if you’re not really studying what happens in real time operations, so sharing that information is very, very critical.”

WECC is addressing the need to share information across the interconnected system through its synchrophasor and operating reliability data-sharing agreement, Nevius said.

“It’s critical that all BAs and [transmission owners] become signatories to this agreement as soon as possible so they can have these data available to them,” Nevius said. “It’s in everyone’s best interest – WECC and all the other regions – to really thoroughly look at the issues raised by this event and address them as promptly as possible.”