SPP agrees to $50,000 fine for possible violation of NERC standards

Southwest Power Pool (SPP) has agreed to pay a $50,000 civil penalty for possible violations of two NERC reliability standards related to a loss of system visibility that occurred the day after Christmas in 2007. (Docket No. IN13-14-000)

As part of a stipulated agreement approved by FERC on July 10, SPP also agreed to commit to measures necessary to mitigate the reliability matters that lead to the penalty. SPP neither admitted nor denied that its actions constituted violations of the reliability standards.

When considering the appropriate sanction, FERC staff considered that SPP has made significant efforts to date to address reliability concerns identified in the investigation, according to the order. Those measures include improvements to SPP’s primary, secondary, and tertiary telecommunications and network services to make them more robust, redundant, and diverse, FERC said.

The possible violations were uncovered during an independence audit conducted by FERC staff of the SPP regional entity, during which investigators discovered a Dec. 26, 2007 event affecting SPP’s performance of its reliability coordination function.

During the event, SPP temporarily lost all primary communications with, and visibility of, system conditions at its primary control center, FERC said in its order approving the agreement. The investigation focused on SPP’s functioning as a NERC-registered reliability coordinator (RC) both as the independent coordinator of transmission for the operating company affiliates of Entergy (NYSE:ENT) subsidiary Entergy Services, and for the SPP RTO.

The event was triggered when an SPP IT technician deployed a firewall configuration change on the SPP internal telecommunications network. Due to a mistake in the deployment process resulting in an erroneous configuration, all primary communications and visibility on the monitors on the RC desk at SPP’s primary control center were lost. According to the FERC order, control room operators were then sent to SPP’s back-up control center approximately 20 miles away.

However, within 10 minutes of the loss of visibility, the control room manager on duty in the primary control room determined that, using a laptop with secured access to RC systems, he could access system visibility information even though visibility on the control room monitors and the phone systems was impaired.

About 45 minutes after the incident began, control room operators arrived at the back-up control center and logged on to the programs used to perform the RC functions.

SPP RC did not submit an Interconnection Reliability Operating Limit and Preliminary Disturbance Report form to the SPP regional entity or to NERC within 24 hours of the incident, investigators found.

As a result of the investigation, FERC and NERC staff concluded that SPP violated two requirements of two NERC reliability standards. IRO-015-1, Requirement R1, requires SPP to “follow its operating procedures, processes, or plans for making notifications and exchanging reliability related information with other reliability coordinators,” FERC said in the order.

FERC and NERC staff also concluded that SPP violated reliability standard EOP-004-1, Requirement R3, which requires an entity to “provide a preliminary written report to its Regional Reliability Organization and NERC” within 24 hours of a reportable incident.

SPP declined to offer additional comments beyond what was contained in the agreement with FERC when contacted by TransmissionHub

Half of the stipulated civil penalty will be paid to the United States Treasury, while the other half will be paid to NERC.