Organizations representing nearly every electric utility in the U.S., along with thousands of water utilities, are urging Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to hold a public meeting on a controversial Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposal which, if approved as drafted, could negatively impact critical infrastructure operated by these entities.
In a July 16 letter, the entities requested the Secretary to urge the FCC to ensure that its controversial proposal to open the 6 GHz spectrum band to unlicensed use contains proven, tested measures for mitigating the impact it could have on vitally important communications networks operated by electric and water utilities throughout the country.
Entities signing the letter are the American Public Power Association, the American Water Works Association, the Edison Electric Institute, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Nuclear Energy Institute, and the Utilities Technology Council. Collectively, these organizations represent almost every electric utility in the country, along with most major operators of our nation’s nuclear power plants, and thousands of water utilities.
Nearly all of the utilities represented by these organizations own, manage, and maintain private communications networks that underpin the safe and reliable delivery of electricity and water services. Utilities use these networks to monitor their infrastructure, take automated action to prevent faults on the grid, and provide voice communications vital to restoring services after outages.
In order to build highly reliable communications networks, utilities use multiple technologies, including wireline and wireless systems, to ensure these networks function in the face of all kinds of hazards. A critical component to any wireless network is interference-free spectrum, a naturally occurring phenomenon. Spectrum allocation for commercial use is regulated by the FCC.
This is relevant to the Department of Energy, the groups said, because the FCC is considering a proposal which would likely increase the threat of interference in the heavily used 6 GHz band, which utilities have relied upon for more than two decades to provide mission-critical communications, including day-to-day reliability monitoring and emergency response. Given DOE’s role in critical infrastructure protection, it should weigh in at the FCC because the FCC’s proposed policy would negatively impact critical infrastructure.
“Our collective membership uses the 6 GHz band for many of these mission-critical communications. Currently, the band is reserved for licensed use,” the groups said. “Licensed spectrum offers our members the reliability and protection from interference that these networks require. Due to the criticality of these networks, electric utilities cannot tolerate even the slightest risk that these communications systems could be degraded, as diminished situational awareness can result in degraded electricity reliability. Having continued interference-free access to this licensed spectrum ensures greater reliability and resilience.”
The groups pointed to a recent letter from Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In her letter, Sen. Murkowski specifically asked whether and how the FCC was planning on consulting other energy stakeholders in the development of this proposal.
The letter also highlights the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) June 27 annual reliability technical conference, which featured a discussion on the 6 GHz band proposal. The FERC conference “demonstrated that the communications and energy industries have very different spectrum needs and tolerance for interference,” the groups said.
Secretary Perry should consider holding a public forum or at least urge the FCC to properly test its proposed tool for protecting utilities and other critical infrastructure industries in the 6 GHz band from interference to ensure that it works before moving forward, the groups said.
“Although the FCC is an independent agency, its decisions have a clear and present impact on the nation’s energy and water sectors, the groups said. “It is therefore in DOE’s interest to hold a public conference or, at the very least, encourage the FCC to ensure that its final rule contains adequate, tested, and proven measures to protect the CII industries which power our ways of life.”
UTC and a coalition of the nation’s major electric and water associations sent a unified message to a key congressional panel last week that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC, the Commission) spectrum policies must acknowledge critical infrastructure industries.
In a July 16 statement to the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, UTC and the coalition pointed to the FCC’s controversial rulemaking to expand the 6 GHz spectrum band to unlicensed use as a prime example.
“With the FCC considering expanding access to the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use, we have significant concerns that this proposal will threaten the integrity of our mission-critical communications networks,” the coalition said. “While our collective members fully understand and appreciate the need to make more efficient use of spectrum, members of this Subcommittee should ensure the FCC weighs the advantages of expanding access to the 6 GHz band with the potential negative impact this could have on critical infrastructure networks – that in turn support telecommunications, which cannot function without electricity.”
Groups signing the letter, including UTC, are the American Public Power Association, the American Water Works Association, the Edison Electric Institute, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The letter is distinct from a missive the groups sent last week to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry (see story, this issue).
If the FCC is intent on opening up the band, despite concerns raised by multiple critical infrastructure industries, Congress must urge the agency to ensure its proposed measure to protect against harmful interference actually works before proceeding, the groups said. “In fact, proponents of opening the band indicated at a recent FERC technical conference that they would not support opening the band if incumbents like the CII we represent would be negatively impacted,” the letter said. “It is essential, then, that testing of the AFC system occur should the FCC proceed.”
The groups submitted the statement to coincide with a hearing the Subcommittee held on “Building a Comprehensive Approach to Spectrum Policy.” Another witness at the hearing echoed these points. In his testimony, Jeffrey S. Cohen, chief counsel at APCO International—a global organization representing public-safety communications officials—raised almost identical concerns.
“APCO remains unconvinced that there is any way unlicensed devices could share this spectrum without being required to use some form of an automated frequency coordination mechanism,” Mr. Cohen said. “Additionally, any automated frequency coordination system must undergo substantial testing and be proven in advance to be effective at preventing interference to public safety communications.”
Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.
We are just a month away from UTC’s Broadband Workshop—have you registered?
Since the rural electrification push of the 1930s and the interstate highway system of the 1950s, the United States has never seen such a need for great infrastructure deployment. Higher capacity and more resilient, pervasive broadband must be brought to all corners of the country if we are to ensure that all of our citizens remain integrated into the global economy.
And it is not only the demand for basic broadband but the push towards 5G and further wireless densification that is driving the need for more fiber. How are we to meet this challenge?
Electric utilities are uniquely situated to deliver on this demand. From large investor-owned distribution systems supplying essential backbone and middle mile services to the municipally owned and electric cooperative utilities serving smaller, oftentimes more rural, communities –all electric utilities have a role to play in rewiring our country for the future.
To address these issues, UTC is hosting a broadband workshop focused on meeting the challenges on wiring America. The conference is being held from Aug. 21-22 in Kansas City.
This special 1.5-day workshop will focus on these roles, how each complements the other and the challenges faced by each party in deploying broadband infrastructure to their customers and their communities.
More information, including an agenda and registration information, is available here.
Electric utility executives all over North America are welcome to Montréal to share best practices and lessons learned about digitalization. Across the globe, electric utilities are looking to go digital as they modernize their systems to enable greater customer engagement and deploy new and emerging distribution technologies. This forum will be a first in North America.
UTC’s “Power Grid 4.0—Digitalization Forum” will be held in Montreal from Oct. 16-18, 2019. The event is hosted by Hydro Quebec with the premier sponsor being SNC-Lavalin, an engineering partner expert at mastering complex projects over the last 100 years. The event’s other sponsors include Linxon, Juniper Networks, and Black & Veatch.
“This event will be a key global forum for utilities, policymakers, our vendor partners, and other stakeholders to discuss these important issues,” said UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto. “By bringing major decisionmakers and executives in North America under one roof, we can learn from each other as utilities consider enhancing investments into new and emerging technologies. My thanks to Hydro Quebec for hosting and SNC-Lavalin for their important sponsorship.”
Nearly all utilities deploy their own information and communications technology (ICT) networks to provide day-to-day situational awareness of their infrastructure. As utilities invest in grid modernization in response to customer demand, these networks are being transformed to enable greater deployment of renewable and distributed energy resources that require a more flexible grid. To support grid modernization, the investment in digital assets is paramount, and C-level executives are continuing to realize that now is the time to allocate resources to transform their core utility business.
That’s why the Digitalization Forum is so timely.
“Managing energy supply and demand is evolving and the interconnectivity between customers and utilities is changing our industry. Great relationship between the North American Utilities is key to develop and offer a better outcome that suits the customers’ needs. Hydro Québec is pleased to participate to this first digitalization forum, that brings together, all the major players of our industry to share expertise and best practices, to come up with real solutions and improve performance for the next generations,” said David Murray Chief Operating Officer of Hydro-Québec and President of Hydro-Québec Production.
‘’A vast portion of the power utility infrastructure in North America was constructed in the 1960s and is nearing ‘end of life.’ Power utilities are replacing their equipment while taking into account the numerous changes facing the industry. Such a digital transformation requires capital investments which, if done correctly, can be offset by significant reductions in operational cost. This forum has been created in order to address these issues,’’ said Alain Brière, vice-president & general manager Intelligent Networks & Cybersecurity, SNC-Lavalin.
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