Silence of the power engineers? NERC does nothing

Published June 7, 2022

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC for short (rhymes with jerk), recently released a report warning of likely blackouts across much of America this summer.

The report got lots of publicity, including this piece flagged by our own Climate Depot, titled “Report: Deadly Summer Blackouts Inevitable As Renewables Struggle To Replace Reliable Energy”, see here.

My question is, instead of reporting this pending calamity, why is NERC not preventing it? What is not reported, and seems to be little known, is that NERC is a quasi-regulatory federal agency whose mission is to maintain reliability.

NERC issues standards which the electric power industry is supposed to follow. These federal standards are supposed to be enforced by NERC’s regional subsidiaries. Clearly this process has not worked or we would not be facing widespread blackouts. Why not?

By way of background, NERC was originally a Council, not a Corporation. It was formed in 1968 as a voluntary industry body after the massive 1960’s Eastern blackout. It became a corporation when it was “federalized” in 2006. It appears to answer to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in the US, but also includes Canada. NERC creates and files Reliability Standards with both countries.

Here is NERC’s mission statement: “The vision for the Electric Reliability Organization Enterprise, which is comprised of NERC and the six Regional Entities, is a highly reliable and secure North American bulk power system. Our mission is to assure the effective and efficient reduction of risks to the reliability and security of the grid.​

This vision is clearly inconsistent with NERC’s warning that widespread blackouts loom large for America.

Here is what NERC says about its Reliability Standards: “NERC’s Standards program ensures the reliability of the bulk power system by developing quality reliability standards in a timely manner that are effective, clear, consistent and technically sound.”

If the NERC standard program supposedly “ensures the reliability” of the grid then either the standards are wrong or they are not being followed. The NERC report simply does not address this massive issue.

Unreliability is reported to already be getting pretty bad. Sustained outages in the US went from less than 12 in 2000 to over 180 in 2020. The average utility customer went from 8 hours of power failure per year in 2013 to 16 in 2020.

Looking ahead it gets much worse. The Biden Administrations’ stated goal is for the electric power system to produce zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2035, a mere 13 years away. That means shutting down all fossil fueled generation, which presently provides more than half of America’s electricity.

Meeting the incredible Biden target is clearly a great threat to reliability. Given that this goal was announced over a year ago, NERC should already have developed standards to protect reliability during this called for transition. Either that or NERC should say that eliminating fossil fuels in 13 years simply cannot be done reliably.

I find no indication that NERC or any of its Regional Entities is even looking at this staggering scenario. The studies I have seen are limited to around 50% renewables and even these are not leading to standards. They do a huge amount of modeling but apparently nothing on the specific Federal Plan.

Moreover, many utilities are posting generation plans that are clearly unreliable, swapping fossil fueled and nuclear plants for wind and solar with very little of the required storage. For an example see my report: “Dominion’s VCEA Compliance Plan is Disastrously Unreliable.”

NERC should be blowing the whistle on these massively unreliable plans.

Biden himself tasked every Federal Agency with focusing on the Federal Climate Plan. NERC’s role in this is to issue those Reliability Standards needed to protect reliability. NERC is simply ducking this vital responsibility.

NERC is clearly failing to meet its mission. It should be investigated.

First published at CFACT.