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SDG&E President Says Utility Operated as it Should Have During 2011 Blackout

But federal report blames “inadequate planning and a lack of observability and awareness of system operating conditions on the day of the event.”

Updated at 4 p.m. May 1, 2012

Despite a critical 151-page federal report on the causes of the regionwide power outage of September 2011, the president of San Diego Gas & Electric Co. said Tuesday that his utility acted properly.

“From what we can see and all the review we’ve done and what appears to be in the FERC report, … it appears that our system operated the way it was designed and should have,” said Mike Niggli, SDG&E president and chief operating officer.

But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission report issued earlier Tuesday faulted lack of planning and coordination between utilities and called on SDG&E and other Southwestern companies to make fixes.

“From San Diego Gas & Electric’s standpoint, our focus is on making sure that there’s an expeditious implementation of all the recommendations,” Niggli told a half-hour news conference at the company’s Kearny Mesa complex.

He said what FERC is focusing on is making sure that neighboring utilities “have a visibility into each other’s operations.”

The following news release was issued Tuesday by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the outage beginning about 4 p.m. Sept. 8, 2011, and lasting as long as 12 hours for some of the millions affected. Supporting documents are attached. 

Staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) today said the September 2011 blackout that left 2.7 million customers in Southern California, Arizona and Baja California without power stemmed from operating in an unsecured state due to inadequate planning and a lack of observability and awareness of system operating conditions on the day of the event.

A joint FERC-NERC staff report on the Sept. 8 blackout, issued today after a nearly eight-month inquiry, recommends that transmission operators and balancing authorities improve how they plan for operations to account for the status of facilities outside their individual systems, the effect of external operations on their own systems and how operation of transmission facilities under 100 kiloVolts (kV) can affect the reliability of the bulk power system.

“This report highlights the growing need for more coordination of grid operations in the West,” FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said. “Implementing the recommendations in this report will assist in enhancing the planning and system awareness measures that are necessary to operate an efficiently integrated bulk power system, and reduce costs to consumers from these types of outages that could continue if operational efficiencies are not improved.”

“This event underscores how complex and interdependent our North American electric systems are and the critical importance of information sharing, communications, system studies and coordinated operations among all interconnected systems,” said Gerry Cauley, president and CEO of NERC.

“Transmission operators, Balancing Authorities and Reliability Coordinators must work together to effectively manage this complex system. I would like to recognize the effective collaboration between FERC and NERC staff during the course of this inquiry”

“Today's report provides a series of lessons learned from the September 2011 event that is available to industry for use as a tool to improve their operations and planning of the grid,” FERC Commissioner John Norris said.

“My hope is that the findings and recommendations in this report will be utilized to the broadest extent possible in order to enhance the reliability and efficiency of the Bulk Power System.”

The inquiry was initiated to determine how the blackout occurred and to make recommendations to avoid similar situations in the future. FERC and NERC staff used on-site interviews, sophisticated computer modeling, event simulations and system analysis to make the determination that entities responsible for planning, operating and monitoring the bulk power system were not prepared to ensure reliable operation or prevent cascading outages in the event of a single contingency: the loss of Arizona Public Service’s (APS) Hassayampa-North Gila 500 kV transmission line.

That line loss itself did not cause the blackout, but it did initiate a sequence of events that led to the blackout, exposing grid operators’ lack of adequate real-time situational awareness of conditions throughout the Western Interconnection. More effective review and use of information would have helped operators avoid the cascading blackout.

For example, had operators reviewed and heeded their Real Time Contingency Analysis results prior to the loss of the APS line, they could have taken corrective actions, such as dispatching additional generation or shedding load, to prevent a cascading outage.

The report recommends that bulk power system operators improve their situational awareness through improved communication, data sharing and the use of real-time tools. It also recommends that:

  • System planners and operators recognize, study and incorporate the effects of sub-100 kV systems on bulk power system reliability into their planning and operations;
  • The Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) recognize and study Interconnection reliability operating limits;
  • Transmission Owners and Operators review overload protection relay settings to give them more time to mitigate overloads;
  • Transmission Operators and WECC study the effects of special protection systems, remedial action schemes and safety nets, such as the one that disconnected San Diego from the high voltage lines south of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, to understand how they affect reliability and to ensure that they do not have unintended or undesirable effects; and
  • System operators plan and account for phase angle differences in order to be able to re-energize transmission lines following outages.
Batman May 02, 2012 at 09:46 PM
We had exactly the same kind of outage in 1979 when some SDG&E employees at the South Bay Power Plant "goofed up". It took SDG&E about the same amount of time to get the county re-lit. They were not accused of this then. What has changed?
Batman May 02, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Outages are not in SDG&Es best interests. If the meters don't spin they don't make money.
Earlene May 02, 2012 at 10:10 PM
I've never known the CPUC to ever turn down a rate increase from SDG&E, which has been my power company for almost 40 years, unfortunately! You're right--they are a monopoly and all they care about is making more and more money for their Sempra shareholders. On another note, try talking to any of their stooge customer service people; I've yet to get the SAME answer twice. Ever since they installed the dumb Smartmeter and fried my golfcart and refrigerator, at a loss of over $3,500+ have I awakened to this dishonest power company. I did without a refrigerator for almost a year, all while their two stooges in the Loss Dept. kept telling me it wasn't their fault, but rather that of their sub-contractor. What!!!! Only when my son took over my plight, and told them I was diabetic and thinking about suing them after I continued to lose weight because I could not store any food or leftovers as I had no fridge, etc. did they FINALLY agree to send me a check and repair my golfcart. I think they're all heartless, a bunch of thieves and liars and I want nothing further to do with them, ever.
Daniel Wise May 03, 2012 at 02:48 AM
The last thing SDG$E wants is to see is the creation of local municipalities establishing their own solar power production facilities. Want to do something about it? You can - by greening up your lifestyle and supporting local solar projects. Personally, it's also rewarding to use solar energy to heat your water, dry your clothes, cook your food, and even generate enough electricity to earn you a seasonal credit from SDG$E. Beware SDG$E's efforts to undermine the economics of solar systems; regardless of the fact that they're also blatantly destroying thousands of new green sun jobs. Make hay while the sun shines.
Earlene September 08, 2012 at 07:20 PM
One year has passed since this massive blackout-power failure affected all of San Diego and other Counties in California. Here Artie Ojeda tells us his recent findings: http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/San-Diego-Blackout-One-Year-Later-168994186.html

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