While FERC Order 1000 remains a key issue at FERC, the commission is also grappling with such other matters as cybersecurity concerns and potential threats on the grid from solar storms, according to Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur.
During her keynote address at Infocast’s 16th Annual Transmission Summit 2013 on Feb. 26 in Washington, D.C., LaFleur addressed cybersecurity, noting that President Barack Obama recently issued an executive order that, as reported, creates a voluntary cybersecurity program intended to help protect critical infrastructure networks.
The order is intended to enhance the security and resilience of the nation’s critical infrastructure and to maintain a cyber environment that encourages efficiency, innovation, and economic prosperity while promoting safety, security, business confidentiality, privacy and civil liberties.
LaFleur also noted that last fall, FERC created the Office of Energy Infrastructure Security to help identify solutions to potential cyber and security threats to the country’s bulk power system. This fits in with the executive order’s mandate, she said.
“[T]he legislation that’s needed is, number one, to build on this information sharing,” she said of legislative proposals on the matter. “There is only so far you can go in an executive order.”
Almost all of the pieces of legislation she has seen, she said, give someone emergency authority over grid threats. “If there’s a direct threat to the grid, something is happening, it’s not a particularly satisfactory solution for FERC to say to NERC, ‘Hey, something is happening, why don’t you work on a standard?,’ because then maybe 18 months later, we have a standard,” she said. “You need some kind of emergency action. That may or may not come to FERC. It could very well be [the U.S. Department of Energy] or [Department of Homeland Security] or some other actor.”
She later added, “[W]e need to get the information in the right people’s hands, and we need to have the plans so that we don’t plan after the fact – we plan before the fact.”
LaFleur also noted that FERC put out a notice of proposed rulemaking in November 2012 on protecting the grid from geomagnetic disturbances caused by solar storms. “When I first heard of this issue, I used to say it sounds a little bit like science fiction and it still does: the concept that you can have solar flares on the surface of the sun that come into the Earth’s atmosphere and grievously disrupt the operation of the transmission grid,” she said.
The idea of the notice is to require transmission owners to take preventive steps to mitigate damage if something happens, as well as have in place a plan as they do for hurricanes, earthquakes and everything else for how they would get the power back on, she said.
This has proved controversial because “we are forced to try to make decisions in a state of incomplete information,” she said. “We don’t have all the scientific certainty that would ever be available on how solar storms operate.”
Among other things, she said: “We don’t have the luxury in many areas of waiting for certainty before we take steps. That’s certainly true if you look at public health. As you hear about diseases, the government starts requiring vaccines – we don’t wait until everything is cured before we do anything and it’s much the same in our less glamorous area of electricity.”