ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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Voluntary Utility Standards Face Post-Blackout Scrutiny

New York, Aug 19, 2003

“Reliability” is becoming the catchword of the public after the worst blackout in U.S. history spread over 9,300 square miles on August 14, 2003. Over the last several days, utility officials and politicians have pointed to various sources as to where the problem began. As scrutiny descends on the nation’s power grid and indeed the entire energy infrastructure, an ANSI member has been on the front lines of a barrage of questions, attempting to answer the “why” and “how.” The North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) says it needs more authority to enforce the standards the guide the utilities market.

Based in Princeton, NJ, NERC was formed to coordinate the network of local utilities after New York City and other areas in the Northeast were cast in darkness during a widespread blackout in 1965. The purpose of the nonprofit group’s creation was to prevent such occurrences in the future, and support its members in the industry to deal with emergencies and shortages.

NERC lacks regulatory authority to ensure compliance with the industry’s complex system of voluntary standards and practices. NERC representatives and other energy officials are contending that reliability and accountability have been undermined in this voluntary system and that it is no longer sufficient. According to an August 19, 2003 article in the Washington Post, a representative from the Edison Electric Institute, an ANSI member which represents investor-owned utilities, said, "We think mandatory reliability standards are really crucial." NERC has had a call out to Congress for greater authority for two years, and other industry groups express concern over how long proposed changes may be delayed in the legislative process.

NERC uses an ANSI-accredited standards development process to develop reliability standards1. The process is designed to build greater stakeholder participation and consensus as proposed standards proceed from the initial proposal to the final ballot. The standards development process is guided by reliability and market interface principles. NERC’s mission is to ensure that the bulk electric system in North America is reliable, adequate, and secure. NERC membership comprises ten Regional Reliability Councils that account for virtually all the electricity supplied in the United States, Canada, and a portion of Baja California Norte, Mexico.

1 NERC was recently accredited and has not yet developed American National Standards (ANS).