FERC and NERC on May 2 said that according to a new report by their respective staff, operators of the nation’s power grid have sufficient capability to quickly restore their systems using blackstart resources in the event of widespread outages.
As noted in the staff report, FERC in September 2014 initiated a joint staff review, in partnership with NERC and its eight Regional Entities, to assess registered entities’ plans for restoration and recovery of the bulk-power system following a widespread outage or blackout.
The staff report noted that in January 2016, that joint staff review culminated in the issuance of a joint Report on Restoration and Recovery Plans, which was designed to provide a comprehensive understanding of the electric utility industry’s bulk-power system recovery and restoration planning.
Staff added that the Restoration and Recovery Report also identified certain issues that went beyond the scope of the review and recommended further study of those issues. Staff said that two of those areas identified for further study dealt with blackstart resources, which “are critical to maintaining the reliability and resilience of the bulk power system,” namely:
- The availability of blackstart resources, including the identification of strategies for replacing those resources going forward and the factors to be considered for such replacement resources
- Options for expanding system restoration plan testing beyond the currently required blackstart resource testing, to ensure that a blackstart resource can energize equipment necessary to restore the system as intended in the restoration plan
Staff said that in spring 2017, FERC, NERC, and the Regional Entities – referred to as the joint study team – initiated a joint study based on recommendations in the Restoration and Recovery Report. The joint study focused on the availability of registered entities’ blackstart resources, the potential impact of recent changes to registered entities’ blackstart resources, and the manner in which any such impact could be mitigated, staff said.
In addition, the joint study included an assessment of registered entities’ blackstart resource testing under anticipated blackstart conditions to ensure that those resources can effectively restore the bulk-power system following a widespread outage, staff said.
Staff also noted that the joint study team gathered information from a representative sample of nine volunteer registered entities – referred to as the participants – and considered several factors when identifying potential participants for the study, targeting registered entities:
- With significant bulk-power system responsibilities
- That are located in different regions
- That have experienced or are experiencing changes to the availability of their blackstart resources
- That have performed expanded testing, which involves testing beyond the currently required blackstart testing – up to energizing a dead bus – including energizing the transmission line and the next-start generating unit, to ensure that the blackstart generating unit can energize equipment needed to restore the system as intended. A next-start generating unit is the first generating unit in the cranking path to be energized using power from the blackstart generating unit, staff said
- That have gained experience in restoration from extreme conditions or events, such as involvement in prior blackout events, hurricanes, or severe winter weather conditions
Staff said that while some participants have experienced a decrease in the availability of blackstart resources due to retirement of blackstart-capable units over the past decade, the joint study team found that the participants have verified they currently have sufficient blackstart resources in their system restoration plans, as well as comprehensive strategies for mitigating against loss of any additional blackstart resources going forward.
Staff noted that the joint study team also found that participants that have performed expanded testing of blackstart capability, including testing energization of the next-start generating unit, gained valuable knowledge that was used to modify, update and improve their system restoration plans.
Staff noted that their report makes recommendations for industry wide consideration regarding practices, procedures, and methodologies aimed at improving system restoration overall, and blackstart capability planning and testing in particular. The recommendations are for voluntary consideration, and entities are not subject to mandatory compliance with the recommendations, separate and apart from any obligations of mandatory reliability standards, staff said.
The recommendations include mitigating risks associated with the reliance on a single fuel, staff said, adding that the joint study team concludes that the reliance on a single fuel blackstart resource without fuel storage capacity or firm fuel arrangements may cause issues during a restoration event. Therefore, staff said, the joint study team recommends that single fuel-dependent blackstart generator owners develop alternative fuel capability or coordinate with their fuel providers to mitigate that risk. That could include firm contracts with specifications to ensure that fuel supplies to the blackstart generating units are unimpeded during a restoration event, staff said. Furthermore, the joint study team recommends that those blackstart resource owners work with their regulators as necessary, to develop alternative solutions to address potential fuel constraints, staff said.
The joint study team also recommends that RTOs, ISOs, or other appropriate entities consider an examination of the adequacy of compensation for services and benefits provided by blackstart resources, including any potential threat or impact on blackstart resource procurement and retention under current compensation mechanisms, staff said. Additionally, the joint study team recommends examining appropriate compensation for next-start generating units used in system restoration, including compensation for costs associated with participating in such blackstart-related services as expanded testing, staff said.
Blackstart service is the capability of generating units to start without an outside electrical supply or the demonstrated ability of a generating unit to automatically remain operating at reduced levels when disconnected from the grid, staff said.
Among other things, staff said that the joint study team found that the participants have many practices and procedures pertaining to blackstart capability planning and testing that serve to enhance their preparations for system restoration and recovery. The joint study team acknowledges that those practices may not be applicable to all registered entities in all situations, but believes that incorporation of those practices, where appropriate, could add significant value to the registered entities that adopt them and to the utility industry as a whole, staff said. An example of those beneficial practices include coordinating the use of blackstart facilities across multiple transmission service footprints, which can allow a blackstart generating unit to contribute in supplying an adjacent area’s critical load, staff said.