Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
July 2016

Vol 21, No. 31 Week of July 31, 2016

Utilities comment on grid standards

Say they are progressing toward a single set of standards for Railbelt power transmission, want confidentiality over security


Petroleum News

Concerned about the potential need for uniform, enforceable reliability and security standards for the Railbelt power transmission grid, in June the Regulatory Commission of Alaska in created a docket to gather information about the issue. As an opening gambit in the docket the commission asked the Railbelt utilities that operate the grid some questions regarding the status of efforts towards achieving a common set of standards, and for comments regarding the security of the grid.

Currently the grid, with various sections owned and operated by five independent utilities and the state of Alaska, has two sets of different but similar standards. One set of standards is maintained by the Intertie Management Committee, the committee that oversees the transmission intertie between Southcentral Alaska and the Interior, while the other standards are maintained by Homer Electric Association. Given the interconnected nature of the grid and its importance to Railbelt residents and businesses, the commission is worried about the lack of a single standard for the entire grid, the fact that the standards are voluntary rather than mandated and the possible exposure of the grid to security threats such as a cyber attack.

The utilities have now responded to the commissionís questions.

Continuing discussions

Several utilities commented on continuing discussions to reconcile differences between the two sets of current standards, saying that the utilities were holding the second of two workshops in mid July, to further the reconciliation of the standards. Apparently the differences revolve around the sharing of spinning reserves, the power generation capacity kept in reserve to cover generation outages. Homer Electric Association told the commission that all of the utilities now agree on how much total reserve spin must be available but that there are differences of opinion on how that spin should be allocated among the utilities. Matanuska Electric Association also commented that additional work is underway to modify the standards, with a particular focus on system modeling, planning and operations.

The Intertie Management Committee said that reconciliation of the standards should be completed in the next few months.

Sensitivity over security

All of the utilities expressed the seriousness with which they view the security of the grid and said that they have adopted policies for ensuring that security. However, in the interests of not compromising their security arrangements, the utilities are reluctant to provide public information about the security measures they have taken.

Asked about sharing security information with the commission as part of the commissionís investigation into grid standards, all of the utilities voiced their concerns that any of the information given to the commission might pass into the public domain. Municipal Light & Power suggested that the commission should issue a protective order to establish a legal basis for maintaining the confidentiality of security information. And, rather than requiring the transmission to the commission of confidential security information, two of the utilities suggested that the commission should glean knowledge about security arrangements through on-site visits.

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