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Official: NERC considers climate risks in 'nearly everything that we do'

An official with the North American Electric Reliability Corp. said the quasi-governmental organization considers climate change-related risks in nearly every aspect of its role.

Speaking during a press call discussing NERC's 10-year, long-term reliability assessment released the same day, John Moura, NERC's director of reliability assessment and performance analysis, said Dec. 19 that the electric industry's view of climate change has shifted in recent years to beyond just how extreme temperatures could drive changes in peak customers' energy consumption.

"Nearly everything that we do takes into account climate-related risks," Moura said. "The weather impacts availability of resources more than it does demand, and that's really the biggest area of focus for NERC understanding those kind of new contingencies, like what does cloud cover do to your resources, or what if I have a pipeline disruption and what does that do to my resources that might not have oil backup."

Scientists have warned that warming global average temperatures, being driven primarily by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, is exacerbating the intensity and duration of extreme weather-related events such as cold snaps, heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, flooding and wildfires.

Wildfires can make some transmission lines unavailable, Moura said. However, he said wildfires typically pose the greatest risk to distribution lines because operators of high-voltage lines will often deactivate their lines if a wildfire approaches and then reactivate them after it passes.

"But the important piece is that the transmission allows the access to — I'm talking about California — to the energy imbalance market, to the other resources that are going to balance those variable [renewables generation] resources that might be in California," Moura added. Those resources may not be as readily available if a wildfire prompts a powerline to be taken offline. Moura said that to account for that risk, NERC uses power flow studies, "which help engineers identify how the power flows and, if one line is out, where the rest of the power flows to, and we can do a lot of scenarios around that."

As for hurricanes, Moura noted that transmission lines are often now being built to higher standards, particularly in Florida, which is among the states most frequently hit by hurricanes. "We've seen a complete rebuild of Florida's transmission system over the past 10 years, and that has paid dividends in terms of their ability to recover quicker," Moura said.