Prepared by Marc Chupka and Pearl Donohoo-Vallett
Resilience of the electric power system is the ability of the nation’s electricity infrastructure to prevent or diminish damage from high-impact, low-probability events without undue disruption and to rapidly restore service when such disruptions occur. The robustness and flexibility of the high-voltage transmission grid will be critical to the FERC’s consideration of electric system resilience for two reasons that track the definition of resilience itself:
- First, the transmission grid can absorb the damage potentially arising from multiple local generator outages without customer service disruptions by providing access to a network of technologically diverse and geographically dispersed set of power supplies. When sufficiently robust to maintain the flow of power under stressful conditions, transmission systems are inherently resilient.
- Second, the transmission sector has been pursuing investments in both physical assets and operational changes that strengthen the ability of the regional and inter-regional transmission grid to keep operating when challenged by adverse events and to aid the rapid restoration of service when damage and customer outages do occur.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) can recognize the central role of the transmission grid in promoting electric system resilience by: (1) continuing to support an array of investments to strengthen the transmission grid and (2) expanding the role of resilience in regional and inter-regional transmission planning to build upon and expand the inherent resilience benefits that the transmission grid already provides.
Transmission planning has thus far focused primarily on the distinguishable (and valid) need for reliability in the short run. Accounting for the “insurance value” of a more flexible and robust transmission grid in the long-run can protect consumers from costly disruption during severe adverse events that likely will happen without forewarning of their timing, location, and severity. Like any insurance policy, transmission-focused planning and investments could provide cost-effective solutions to address fuel security concerns in some regions without requiring a redesign or rethinking of the competitive generation markets that have produced substantial consumer benefits. Finally, the FERC should consider resilience in addition to the Order 1000 goals of reliability, economics, and public policy, as a planning objective for both regional and inter-regional transmission expansion to help insure against large-scale disruption of electricity supply. This would represent an important step forward in transmission planning analysis and improve overall electric system resilience.