Regulators to review El Paso outages

EL PASO, TEXAS - As the ice thaws and El Paso Electric begins to pick up the pieces, an organization that oversees utilities in the Western United States says it is launching a full review of what went wrong.

“Our operations people will work with El Paso Electric and prepare a very factual report to help determine if there are any potential lessons to be learned from the event,” Rachel Sherrard, communications director for the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, or WECC, told El Paso Inc.

Reliability coordinators with the organization were on the phone with El Paso Electric staff every hour on the hour to update them on any changes to the power grid, Sherrard says.

WECC is part of an intricate patchwork of quasi-regulatory organizations that oversee utility reliability.

Its service territory extends from Mexico to Canada and reaches into Texas just far enough to touch El Paso. The rest of Texas is overseen by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT.

WECC has two, redundant, “reliability coordination centers” that monitor grid loads as well as power stability and reliability in real time in Vancouver, Wash., and Loveland, Colo., according to Sherrard.

The organization is also tasked with insuring utilities comply with reliability standards.

Since June 2007, the electricity industry has been required to operate under mandatory, enforceable reliability standards with possible fines up to $1 million a day.

Sherrard says that WECC has not launched an investigation into El Paso Electric. The first step is the event analysis that will detail what went wrong and what can be learned from the event. That is typically finished within 20 days.

WECC then asks the utilityÂ’s compliance department to review the report and shares the report with its own compliance department.

“We have had good experiences with entities in the past that, if they do find something out of compliance, they will self report it,” Sherrard says.

“If an entity did not self report something and our review suggested to us there was something out of compliance, we would launch an investigation.”

The organization has issued a Level 3 Energy Emergency Alert for El Paso, which means the utility has to take every step possible to restore power, according to Sherrard.

That can include things like public appeals to reduce power consumption or purchasing power. What a great idea.

“The really important thing in all of this is that so many are focused on the reliability of the system,” Sherrard says.

“It is important, from our perspective, that we share the lessons learned to further the reliability mission that is what we are all about,” she added.


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