ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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Three Months After Blackout, Congress Considers the End of Voluntary Electric Reliability Standards

New York, Nov 17, 2003

An energy bill that is speeding through Congress would allow the electric industry to create mandatory reliability standards governing the use of its transmission grid, as part of the legislation’s many provisions. The system currently operates under voluntary standards set by the North American Reliability Council (NERC), which has no authority to enforce them. This approach has been under intense scrutiny since the August 14 blackout that plunged a massive portion of the Northeast into darkness.

NERC's president, Michehl Gent, told Congress in September, “As the entity responsible for reliability standards for the bulk electric system, NERC must understand and communicate to its members what happened on August 14 and why it happened. NERC must also determine whether any of its standards were violated and whether its standards and procedures require modifications to take into account the ways in which the bulk electric system is being used.”

NERC has been participating on the U.S./Canada Power System Outage Task Force that has been examining the cause of the blackout. The group will release an interim report on Wednesday, November 19, at the U.S. Department of Energy.

The bill under consideration by Congress would allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to create a U.S.-Canadian industry group that would draft reliability standards for the commission’s approval. Grid operators could order a utility to alter its power output if lines become overloaded and rule violations could earn fines. In 2002, NERC reported finding hundreds of violations of its standards, which the group estimated would have produced $9 million in fines if it could have collected them.

The energy bill goes far beyond the challenges of the electricity grid and includes a number of other provisions that have caused some division along party lines. Included in the proposed legislation is a coastal erosion plan related to offshore energy development, a provision that would make liability protection for manufacturers of the gasoline additive MTBE retroactive to September 5, a provision that would allow a number of cities to postpone compliance with federal air quality requirements, and another provision that would double the U.S. use of ethanol, a fuel additive distilled from corn, to five billion gallons by 2012.

 Homeland Defense and Security Standardization Collaborative