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Utilities Join Forces to Boost Reliability

The North American Transmission Forum’s members are committed to excellence in the reliable operation of the electric transmission system.

North America’s grid is a vast, complex interconnected network with the high-voltage transmission system serving as the backbone. The North American Transmission Forum’s members are committed to excellence in the reliable operation of the electric transmission system. They are acutely aware that a significant issue anywhere on the grid can potentially lead to more widespread problems. As such, each member has a vested interest in and is committed to improving their peers’ performance as well as their own.

In June 2007, certain reliability standards related to operation of the bulk electrical system became mandatory and enforceable. These standards help ensure adequate levels of grid reliability. And, since that time, Transmission Forum members, like other “registered entities,” have been highly focused on ensuring compliance with those standards.

Beyond compliance, however, Forum members embrace the approaches and behaviors that have historically contributed to high levels of grid reliability. Foremost among these are a focus on excellence; timely and effective information sharing, including best-practice exchange; and constructive peer challenge to continuously improve. The Forum has multiple confidential venues to provide the structure needed to advance these approaches.

Providing Benefits to Members

To date, the Forum has evolved to offer six program areas: information sharing, metrics, practices, peer review, reliability initiatives and assistance.

Information sharing involves getting key information to members in time to make a positive reliability impact. Metrics allow comparison of a member’s performance to their peers and overall membership progress over time. Practices bring large groups of subject-matter experts (SMEs) together (in person or via web conference) to discuss reliability challenges and solutions for important topics such as system protection, vegetation management and security. Peer reviews are comprehensive diagnostic reviews of a specific member’s approaches and performance by teams of up to 25 peer SMEs and staff.

Member feedback on each of these programs has been extremely positive, with peer reviews judged as adding the most value — both to the host member and the peer participants.

The reliability initiative and assistance programs were added in March 2012. A reliability initiative is a project-based approach to help the entire membership advance on consequential, complex topics that may span multiple technical disciplines. Through our geomagnetic disturbance initiative, for example, members are honing improved operator practices and more accurate diagnostic and analytic techniques, and are evaluating the pros and cons of various hardware modifications.

Assistance visits are smaller, more targeted versions of peer reviews, where teams of five to seven peers and staff visit a host member and focus on a particular topic of the host’s choosing — such as human performance error reduction — and leave the host with a candid assessment of current performance and an action plan on how to move forward from good to great.

Focusing on Industry Issues

The Forum has become increasingly intentional about focus areas and coordinating with other industry organizations to both leverage strengths and avoid duplication.

Several topics lend themselves to best practice exchange as the primary performance improvement vehicle. The Forum has dedicated specific practice groups to topics like security and human performance error reduction. Associate reliability benefits are already being recognized.

Since July 2012, Forum members have approved entry into two formal collaborations with other industry partners that offer strategic benefits by broadening the scope of its confidential, best-practice exchange. The Forum recently opened a new headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., to promote interactions among staff, members and industry partners.

Confronting Challenges

The Forum’s 70-plus members constitute significant, majority fractions of North America’s high-voltage circuit miles and peak load. This relatively small number of well-aligned, committed companies forms an agile membership with a large “reliability footprint” that is well suited to assume leadership roles and address existing and emerging reliability challenges, including transmission resiliency and internal controls.

Regulatory organizations have been signaling a shift towards assessing an entity’s ability to “find and fix” its own compliance issues as growing components of both compliance monitoring and enforcement. To that end, the Forum established a working group more than a year ago to develop best practices for risk identification and internal controls in a reliability context. That working group’s efforts have helped posture the members well for leadership roles on those topics.

Tom Galloway ([email protected]) is president and CEO of the North American Transmission Forum.




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