Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

NERC says power sector well prepared, taking aggressive steps to confront COVID-19 threat

The power sector is well prepared and taking aggressive steps to confront the threat posed by the current pandemic, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation said on March 27.

NERC’s assessment is based on industry responses to a Level 2 alert sent to industry on March 10. The alert required industry to respond to NERC by March 20.

The vast majority of registered entities indicated that they either have a written pandemic response plan or are in the process of developing one in light of the COVID-19 crisis, “an unprecedented event for bulk power system operators in North America,” NERC said.

In addition, NERC said that utilities responded to NERC’s Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center’s (E-ISAC) early February all-points bulletin and have reviewed their supply chains to develop plans to deal with potential equipment shortfalls.

“Responses reflect industry attention toward potential vulnerabilities that could arise due to the global COVID-19 pandemic,” NERC said.

In addition, NERC conducts a weekly situational awareness call with the continent’s Reliability Coordinators, which have generally activated their back-up control centers, isolated key workers and are maintaining a deep cleaning routine, NERC noted.

Key takeaways from the alert

Key takeaways from the alert include:

  • Pandemic planning is pervasive among registered entities;
  • The majority of registered entities have reviewed pandemic staffing requirements;
  • A large majority of registered entities have reviewed supply chain needs;
  • More than half of registered entities said they would support mutual aid requests; and
  • Utilities identified risks such as staffing shortages, material shortages and the ability to complete major construction projects and maintenance turnarounds, which could lead to some constraints over the summer.

NERC provided the report as an informational filing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC and NERC on March 18 announced that they were taking steps to ensure that operators of the bulk electric system can focus their resources on keeping people safe and the lights on during the unprecedented public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, NERC said that it is also working on a more comprehensive assessment of potential reliability risks and considerations due to the unusual operating conditions presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The assessment targets pandemic preparedness and operational assessment of spring 2020 conditions and will also share lessons learned from system operators around the world, including Italy. The assessment is expected in April.