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New National Electrical Safety Code to Go Into Effect in February Includes Several Key Changes

The latest edition of the National Electrical Safety Code will go into effect on Feb. 1 and includes a number of key changes. The American Public Power Association will hold a virtual training next month related to the new NESC.

IEEE and the IEEE Standards Association in August 2022 announced the release of the 2023 NESC.

The NESC specifies best practices for the safety of electric supply and communication utility systems at both public and private utilities. The NESC sets the ground rules and guidelines for practical safeguarding of workers and the public during the installation, operation, or maintenance of power, telephone, cable TV, and railroad signal systems.

The NESC is the consensus safety document for electric utilities, noted Brent McKinney, who has worked in technical and executive leadership positions in the electric utility industry for 35 years. Over the past 20 years, he has worked extensively with the NESC and is currently secretary of NESC Subcommittee 8 (Work Rules). He helped write the latest standard and the NESC Handbook.

McKinney said that the NESC is considered as the minimum safety standard for electric utility workers and for protection of the public from electric utility facilities. “All electric utilities are highly aware of the need for safety precautions. Knowledge of minimum safety standards provides an excellent base for an electric utility safety program,” he told Public Power Current.

The NESC is normally revised every five years, McKinney noted. “Due to the pandemic, the current revision cycle was pushed to six years. Each NESC revision considers changes for new and existing safety issues since the last revision. The subcommittees for the NESC are comprised of long-term industry experts in operations, engineering and safety. They also represent all segments of the electric utility industry.”

NESC changes update the minimum safety standards for electric utilities, McKinney said. “Continuously enhancing and revising safety standards over many decades has significantly decreased electric utility accidents.  This dramatic increase in electric utility safety is primarily due to electric utility companies changing their safety standards due to changes in the NESC.”

NESC is also considered a minimum consensus standard for accident investigation and legal issues, he added. Compliance with the latest edition of the NESC may also decrease utility liability for incidents and accidents, he noted.

The IEEE SA said that the potential impacts of recent and emerging technologies are reflected in the new Code.

It said that notable changes to the 2023 NESC include significant revisions made in Section 14 covering batteries, addressing new battery technologies, energy storage, and backup power.

Another key change is a new Section 19 for photovoltaic generating stations that addresses general codes, location, grounding configurations, vegetation management, DC overcurrent protection, and DC conductors. These new rules accommodate large-scale solar power projects.

McKinney noted that other changes include a requirement for radio frequency safety training and a new arc flash table for medium voltage switchgear and horizontally racked breakers.

Like previous versions, the 2023 edition will be available in digital, printed, e-learning, and mobile-app formats. This edition consists of initial sections covering scope, purpose, and grounding methods, followed by sections that include specific rules for electric supply stations, overhead lines, underground lines, and safety-related work practices.

A companion document, the 2023 NESC handbook, is available with the Code. The handbook includes all of the rules of the Code but also provides insights and commentary on the rules and how to apply them from the experts who helped develop the Code, including historical notes to provide context for Code revisions and additions, the IEEE SA said.

APPA to Host Virtual Training Tied to NESC Changes

On Feb. 8-9, APPA will hold a virtual training related to NESC changes. McKinney will be the instructor for the training.

The training is recommended for public power utility staff, policymakers, Joint Action Agency and State Associations, and others who are responsible for safety or make decisions concerning electric transmission and distribution.

Additional information about the virtual training including how to register is available here.