With input from the American Public Power Association and public power utilities, the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC) has updated a resource guide it has developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The updated guide now includes sections on generation facilities and the supply chain, as well as updates to existing sections.
The guide is a living document that was developed under the direction of the ESCC.
Generation operational continuity
The updated guide now offers guidance to investor-owned electric companies, public power utilities, electric cooperatives, independent power producers, and federal government-owned utilities responsible for the safe and reliable operation of generation power plants and generation control centers during and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This document develops credible scenarios that could impact generation operations, identifies mitigation options, supports information sharing across the industry, and outlines needed government actions,” the ESCC said.
The guide notes that the personnel needed to staff and operate generating facilities are essential to the reliable operation of the energy grid.
“The facilities needed to perform these functions generally are well-isolated and physically secure, or at least conducive to the sequestration of on-site staff as needed. However, given the long lead times required to train personnel to operate and maintain control systems at generating facilities properly, the limited number of people with these qualifications places a higher risk to reliable operations and requires a higher priority for protection from the spread of COVID-19 than the general population.”
Individual organizations still will have discretion to identify essential personnel unique to their organization, but a more uniform approach to categorizing staff will support the communication of likely areas of government support at the local, state, and federal levels, the ESCC said.
Supply chain considerations
An additional new section provides guidance that investor-owned electric and/or natural gas companies, public power utilities, and electric cooperatives can consider for maintaining adequate supply of inputs and physical equipment during this health emergency.
The ESCC said that lists were developed for consideration so that both the volumes of the supply chain need, and the geographic location of suppliers can be determined. “Clearly, the extent and duration of this emergency will influence the importance of one supply chain component compared to another.”
The three lists provided are: (1) industry critical personal protective equipment, Tier I & II, (2) power delivery materials; and (3) bulk chemicals needed for power generation and delivery.
The ESCC noted that these lists were collected from organizations across the industry. “The intent of the content is to serve as a general resource of information and is not an industry standard.”
With respect to industry-critical personal protective equipment needs for pandemic planning purposes, Tier I items are those items that serve an immediate need where critical infrastructure workers are subject to contact. Tier II are items that are not needed at the time of contact but would be needed, should the impacts from COVID-19 be felt, long term.
With respect to power delivery materials, the ESCC noted that the purpose is to list frequently used critical electric power transmission and distribution materials needed for continued safe and reliable operations. It is not intended to include critical spares for major pieces of equipment such as large power transformers.
“While investor-owned electric companies, public power utilities, and electric cooperatives maintain a certain stock level of the materials that they frequently use, normal consumption rates, potential spikes in regional demand driven by storms or hurricane landfalls, or a disruption to transportation networks rapidly could deplete these stocks over a broad area. Maintaining a functional manufacturing and delivery supply chain for these materials will support safe and reliable operations in the future.
As for bulk chemicals needed for power generation and delivery, the purpose is to list bulk chemicals critical to power generation and delivery. These chemicals are consumed at various rates by power production processes, so maintaining continued reliable access is critical to generate electricity, the ESCC said. “The manufacturing and delivery supply chain of these chemicals must remain functional for continued reliable power generation.”
Sequestration guidelines and considerations
The latest iteration of the guide also adds a new topic to the existing “Control Center Continuity” section.
“Sequestration is likely to be the most effective means of reducing risk to critical control center employees during a pandemic, but it is also the most resource- and cost-intensive option to implement,” the guide noted.
“Additionally, sequestration presents additional challenges to employees and their families at a time when stress and uncertainty already are running high. Careful consideration of the circumstances or ‘triggers’ that dictate a decision to enact sequestration is necessary for determining if and when sequestration is the best option.”
The guide defines sequestration as an “employee with no confirmed exposure risk and no symptoms of COVID-19 proactively is isolated for an extended period for the purpose of performing his/her job function on-site. No movement beyond the designated sequestration area and no interpersonal contact with individuals outside the defined area for the designated period are allowed.
The ESCC said that the decision to enact sequestration is driven by individual organization risk assessments “and should not be based on any one criterion or data point alone, but it should consider the situation for a specific control center holistically.”
Considerations may include, but are not limited to, the following (additional details about these considerations are in the updated guide):
- The number of people showing symptoms or testing positive as a percentage of the population for the government jurisdiction (county or municipality) where the control center is located;
- The number of people showing symptoms or testing positive who perform certain job functions, primarily based on particular certified skills and the ability to hire a replacement; and
- The rate of infection spread across a geographic region
Other possible considerations for activating control center sequestration may include:
- Screenings based on control center absenteeism rates;
- State or municipal emergency directives that apply to the jurisdiction in which a control center is located; and
- Reliability Coordinator (RC) directives that require operation of the affected control center to ensure reliability of the bulk electric system for the duration of the pandemic;
- Reputational risks of either taking or not taking action to ensure continued operation of the affected control center (e.g., in support of the RC)
“In addition to understanding the possible triggers for enacting sequestration, operators should give consideration to factors that may indicate that sequestration is not the best solution for a control center at a particular time,” the ESCC said.
“For instance, in regions that already have seen high numbers of confirmed cases or rapid rates of community transmission, the ability to test every sequestered employee proactively is a critical prerequisite before sequestration can be enacted. If sufficient testing is unavailable in these circumstances, it may be ‘too late’ for sequestration to be an effective means of reducing risk to control center employees. Conversely, if a sequestration plan is put into effect too early, it may become challenging to sustain operations for the necessary duration of the sequestration.”
The guide also details sequestration strategies. “Strategies for sequestering control center personnel are driven by organization risk assessments and geographically specific factors, such as the remoteness of the facility itself and proximity to large clusters of positive cases,” the ESCC noted.
The updated guide is available here.
DOE FAQs on COVID-19
Meanwhile, the Department of Energy’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, & Emergency Response recently released a list of frequently asked questions on COVID-19. These questions were gathered through requests for information submitted by industry, state and local officials, and through ESF-12 responders in the field.
The most recent update of the FAQs was released April 1, 2020 and is available from the DOE’s coronavirus hub (https://www.energy.gov/coronavirus-hub), and will continue to be updated going forward.