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California orders utilities to adopt electric equipment security plans

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California orders utilities to adopt electric equipment security plans

California regulators ordered all publicly owned and investor-owned electric utilities throughout the state to adopt security plans to reduce physical risks to essential distribution facilities.

The Public Utilities Commission on Jan. 10 ordered the measures in an effort that stems from an April 2013 rifle attack on PG&E Corp. subsidiary Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s Metcalf substation near San Jose, Calif., in which transformers and circuit breakers were damaged. The incident was one of a number of high-profile attacks that gained national attention and resulted in a federal response to create national standards to deal with physical and cyber-security threats.

While national rules apply to major transmission systems under federal jurisdiction, a joint utility proposal for the PUC's proceeding represented a first-of-its-kind effort to establish new critical asset protections at the distribution level in order to address the risk of long-term outages to distribution facilities.

Publicly-owned utilities and associations, such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the California Municipal Utilities Association, contended the PUC does not have jurisdiction to impose security plan requirements on them.

However, Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen, who presided over the proceeding to prepare the decision, said the courts have provided the PUC with the authority to adopt statewide rules, given the interconnected nature of the grid, rather than rely on a patchwork of local rules.

The decision requires investor-owned utilities to submit to the commission a preliminary assessment of priority facilities for their distribution assets and control centers within 18 months and for publicly-owned utilities to notify the PUC within 30 months that their security plans have been independently reviewed and adopted in accordance with the North America Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protocol.

To comply with the risk-based protocol, the plans must include all assets deemed not redundant and for which damage could result in power failures.