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Widespread reliability violations contributed to 2011 blackout, FERC staff allege

From the January 27, 2014 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published January 27, 2014

By Robert Varela
Editorial Director
Reliability standard violations by the Western Electric Coordinating Council's (WECC) reliability coordinator, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) and several electric utilities contributed to the September 2011 blackout in the Southwest, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission enforcement staff said. In a Jan. 22 notice, FERC staff alleged violations of various standards by Arizona Public Service, Imperial Irrigation District (IID), Southern California Edison and the Western Area Power Administration's Desert Southwest division, as well as the CAISO and WECC reliability coordinator.

IID said it expects to reach a settlement in principle with FERC staff shortly. 

"Expected terms of the agreement call for IID, without admitting liability or wrongdoing, to acknowledge and accept certain factual premises of the investigation into the 2011 outage, and to pay a fine with an anticipated cumulative value of up to $12 million, based on several alleged violations of reliability standards pertaining to its operation of the bulk electric system," said IID General Manager Kevin Kelley. "Of this amount, it is proposed that no more than $3 million would be paid to FERC and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. and $9 million would be applied to physical improvements to the IID system."

The physical improvements IID has committed to making under this settlement in principle will result in a stronger system, the district said. In combination with IID’s Strategic Transmission Expansion Plan currently before the California Independent System Operator, the capital projects include a significant investment in battery storage, new 500-kV transmission paths for greater export of renewable energy from the IID balancing authority to the east and west, as well as a fortified 230-kV loop within IID’s energy service territory. All of the improvements "are considered essential to not only the integrity of the IID balancing authority but to the larger Western grid," the utility said.

IID has taken several specific actions following the 2011 event to improve visibility between its own system and those of adjacent balancing authorities, Kelley said. "In doing so, it has largely mitigated the violations alleged by FERC," he said. "In fact, the district’s unilateral action to install an additional transformer and boost capacity at the Coachella Valley bank in the summer of 2012 helped to avert a similar chain reaction from unauthorized power flows into the IID system on at least two occasions since the 2011 outage." However, as a balancing authority within the Western grid, the district must do more, he said. 


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Senior Vice President, Publishing 
Jeanne Wickline LaBella

Editorial Director
Robert Varela

Editor, Public Power Daily
Jeannine Anderson

Communications Assistant
Fallon W. Forbush

Manager, Integrated Media 
David L. Blaylock

Integrated Media Editor 
Laura D’Alessandro