FERC OKs NERC request to defer implementation of reliability standards due to COVID-19

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved a motion filed by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation in which NERC sought approval to defer the implementation of several reliability standards that have effective dates or phased-in implementation dates in the second half of 2020.

NERC said that the action is a measure to help assure grid reliability amid the impacts posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the motion, NERC asks that FERC defer the implementation of reliability standards in the areas of cyber security, specific training for personnel, disturbance monitoring and reporting requirements and generator relay loadability. For the cyber security standards that address supply chain issues, NERC is seeking to defer implementation by three months and for the other standards by six months.

NERC said that while this motion addresses only those reliability standards scheduled to become effective during the remainder of 2020, it recognizes that there are significant uncertainties regarding the duration of the outbreak and the subsequent recovery.

NERC therefore said it will continue to evaluate the circumstances to determine whether additional implementation delays may be warranted and submit any appropriate filings with FERC at that time.

The American Public Power Association, the Edison Electric Institute, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the Large Public Power Council on April 9 submitted a filing at FERC in support of NERC’s motion.

“Given the unpredictable nature and timeline of COVID-19 that has and continues to impact our nation, the economy and the electric sector, there is good cause to grant a delay for the implementation of the reliability standards and such a delay is ‘just, reasonable, not unduly discriminatory, and in the public interest,’” APPA and the other groups said.

The groups noted that their members include many NERC registered entities subject to the reliability standards. “They have been and continue to be appropriately focused on protecting the health and safety of their employees, who are responsible for maintaining reliable and secure grid operations, during the COVID-19 emergency.” 

Another party to the proceeding, Protect Our Power, suggested that the Commission grant a shorter (i.e., 30-day) extension for Reliability Standard CIP-013-1 because of the critical nature of the utility industry supply chain and that many or most utilities may already be prepared to comply by the current July 1 deadline.

Michael Mabee filed an out-of-time protest, asserting that a pandemic was not unexpected and “the industry should have been prepared.”

“We are persuaded by NERC’s statement that granting this motion will allow registered entities to focus their immediate efforts and resources on maintaining safety and ensuring the reliability of the grid,” FERC said in its April 17 order.

“Accordingly, we find that the deferred implementation dates constitute a reasonable and proportionate response to the substantial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on registered entities without unduly delaying the implementation of these reliability standards,” FERC said.

FER noted that the reliability standards that are the subject of the order are important for ensuring the security and reliability of the grid.

“We recognize that registered entities have likely already taken significant steps to ensure the effective and timely implementation of these reliability standards, and we encourage them to continue doing so.  Nevertheless, it is now necessary to balance the important role these NERC reliability standards play in protecting the reliability and security of the Bulk-Power System with the need for registered entities to respond to the immediate challenges of COVID-19.”

FERC said it therefore expects entities to continue their work in implementing the standards and to take advantage of the additional time to ensure they are fully compliant with these reliability standards when they become enforceable.