North American Electric Reliability Corporation

North American Electric Reliability Corporation
Contiguous United States power transmission grid consists of 300,000 km of lines operated by 500 companies.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a nonprofit corporation based in Atlanta, GA, was formed on March 28, 2006, as the successor to the North American Electric Reliability Council (also known as NERC). The original NERC was formed on June 1, 1968, by the electric utility industry to promote the reliability and adequacy of bulk power transmission in the electric utility systems of North America. NERC's mission states that it is to "ensure that the bulk power system in North America is reliable."

NERC oversees eight regional reliability entities and encompasses all of the interconnected power systems of the contiguous United States, Canada and a portion of Baja California in Mexico.

NERC's major responsibilities include working with all stakeholders to develop standards for power system operation, monitoring and enforcing compliance with those standards, assessing resource adequacy, and providing educational and training resources as part of an accreditation program to ensure power system operators remain qualified and proficient. NERC also investigates and analyzes the causes of significant power system disturbances in order to help prevent future events.

NERC also provides for critical infrastructure protection (NERC CIP).


Origins of NERC

Early electric power systems, such as those installed by George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison, prior to the turn of the century were isolated central stations which served small pockets of customers independently of each other. As some of these power systems grew to cover larger geographic areas, it became possible to connect previously isolated systems. This allowed neighboring systems to share generation and voltage stability resources, providing mutual benefit to each side. However, tying power systems together with these early interconnections also introduced the risk that a single significant disturbance could collapse all of the systems tied to the interconnection. Generally it was decided that the benefits outweighed the risks, and by 1915 interconnections began to flourish and grow in size. By the end of the 1960s there were virtually no isolated power systems remaining in the lower forty-eight states and southern Canada; practically all power companies were attached to large interconnections.

In 1962, when the Eastern Interconnection was established in its current form, The Interconnected Systems Group (composed of Southern and Midwestern utility companies), the PJM Interconnection, and the Canada-United States Eastern Interconnection (CANUSE) formed the Interconnection Coordination Committee to recommend an informal operations structure, which led to the formation of the North American Power Systems Interconnection Committee (NAPSIC). NAPSIC eventually grew to also include the Texas Interconnection and most of the companies in what is today the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC), operating within the Western Interconnection.

On November 9, 1965, a relatively minor system disturbance triggered a power system protection component that was not properly configured. The interconnection was operating near peak capacity due to the extreme cold weather and high heating demand, and was therefore more vulnerable than usual. The small initial outage quickly cascaded into the Northeast Blackout of 1965. This disturbance revealed the extent that interconnections had evolved without adequate high-level planning and operating oversight to try to prevent such events, and that interconnected power systems frequently had varying operating standards and procedures developed somewhat independently by each member on the interconnection. Restoration efforts were also partially hampered due to the lack of common practices and coordination procedures. Furthermore, power system protection schemes were often designed with only a local power system's design in mind, meaning that they might misoperate in response to protection schemes activating in neighboring systems. This disturbance revealed the necessity to develop common operating and protection standards as well as plans to effectively coordinate power system restoration efforts.

The Electric Reliability Act of 1967, passed due to the political pressure and fallout from the 1965 blackout, was a significant turning point in the arena of electric reliability in North America. Initially, ten regional reliability councils were created by groups of interconnected power systems, which collectively covered the entire footprints of the major North American interconnections, and NERC was then formed as a more formalized successor to NAPSIC to spearhead reliability efforts and assist the regional councils by developing common operating policies and procedures as well as training resources and requirements.

Although significant disturbances continued to occasionally occur, such as the New York City blackout of 1977, NERC undoubtedly played a significant role in minimizing the impact and frequency of these events. It is difficult to quantify this success because it is impossible to know how many disturbances were prevented by the influence of NERC and the reliability councils.

NERC today

Out of its long history, NERC developed a complex committee structure which brings together hundreds of industry expert volunteers in nearly 50 committees, sub-committees, task forces, and working groups considering issues from wind and renewable power integration to education to demand-side management and energy efficiency. NERC's role in raising awareness of reliability issues and creating the impetus to address them is intended to improve reliability every day.

With the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, an "Electric Reliability Organization" was created to develop and enforce compliance with mandatory reliability standards in the U.S. This non-governmental, "self-regulatory organization" was created in recognition of the interconnected and international nature of the bulk power grid. In 2006, NERC applied for and was granted this designation.

Today, NERC's standards are mandatory and enforceable throughout the 50 United States and several provinces in Canada. Entities in the U.S. found to be in violation of a standard can be subject to fines of up to $1 million per day per violation.

Interconnections and Reliability Councils

Major interconnections

The two major and three minor NERC Interconnections, and the nine NERC Regional Reliability Councils.

Minor interconnections

  • The Texas Interconnection covers most of the state of Texas. It is tied to the Eastern Interconnection at two points, and also has ties to non-NERC systems in Mexico. The reliability council for the Texas Interconnection is:
  • The Québec Interconnection covers the province of Québec and is tied to the Eastern Interconnection at two points. Despite being a functionally separate interconnection, the Québec Interconnection is often considered to be part of the Eastern Interconnection. The reliability council for the Québec Interconnection is:
  • The Alaska Interconnection covers a portion of the state of Alaska and is not tied to any other interconnections. Due to its isolated nature, the Alaska Interconnection is not generally counted among North America's interconnections. The reliability council for the Alaska Interconnection is:

NERC Authority

As part of the fallout of the Northeast Blackout of 2003, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to designate a national Electric Reliability Organization (ERO). On July 20, 2006, FERC issued an order certifying NERC as the ERO for the United States. Prior to being the National ERO, NERC's guidelines for power system operation and accreditation were referred to as Policies, for which compliance was strongly encouraged yet ultimately voluntary. NERC has worked with all stakeholders over the past several years to revise its Policies into Standards, and now has authority to enforce those standards on power system entities operating in the United States, as well as several provinces in Canada, by way of significant financial penalties for noncompliance. Efforts between NERC and the Canadian and Mexican governments are underway to obtain comparable authority for NERC to enforce its standards on the NERC member systems residing outside of the United States.

Cyber warfare

In April 2009, NERC issued a public notice that warns that the Electrical Grid is not adequately protected from cyber-warfare.[1]

See also


External links

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