UTC’s message regarding the importance of utility telecommunications networks and the need to break down cross-agency silos resonated during a Senate hearing focused on blackstart and utility response to catastrophic events.
Numerous committee members of both parties picked up on Ms. Ditto’s messages on the criticality of utility communications and how key regulatory agencies need to better communicate during the Oct. 11 Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on blackstart processes.
[Editor’s Note: Please see the separate story below on Ms. Ditto’s written testimony.]
Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), in closing the hearing, said she was “intrigued” by UTC’s ask that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) begin holding regular discussions to “break down more of these silos between agencies.”
These meetings, Ms. Ditto said, would build “a better understanding between the technology, communications, and electricity industries,” she said. These meetings would help identify where the interdependencies between the sectors are, what policies may be needed to address these issues, and whether any potential workforce development priorities should be considered as well.
Other senators on the committee, including Republican Cory Gardner (CO) and Democrats Mazie Hirono (HI) and Catherine Cortez Masto (NV) were also interested in the need for critical utility communications. Sen. Cortez Masto noted that interoperability is essential to emergency communications. “I cannot stress enough that [interoperability] is so important,” she said.
The hearing was a significant platform for UTC’s key policy priorities. That so many Senators—of both parties—followed up with UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto on her discussion on interdependencies and a lack of communication between FERC and the FCC is a significant development in our advocacy efforts.
We will keep our membership updated on any next steps that come from the hearing. Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.
The electric utility industry has the technologies and processes in place to restore power back to the grid after a widespread outage, though certain federal policies could threaten the industry’s ability to communicate during such an event, UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto told Congress.
In testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (SENR) Committee, Ms. Ditto said a better understanding of the growing interdependencies between the electricity and telecommunications industries would help smooth out these problematic policies. The SENR Committee, she said, could take a lead role in encouraging federal agencies to communicate more often, which might result in better policies for both sectors.
Ms. Ditto delivered her remarks during the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Oct. 11 hearing on blackstart, the process for returning electricity to the grid after a widespread outage.
[Editor’s Note: Please see the separate story above on the discussion from the hearing itself.]
In her written testimony, Ms. Ditto detailed how electric utilities use Information and Communications Technology (ICT) networks to underpin the day-to-day reliability and resilience of their infrastructure. These networks are also essential for storm/emergency response and recovery, including the delicate process of blackstart.
She highlighted multiple reports from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) which noted how utilities test their communications networks frequently to ensure their operability in the event of a blackstart situation. Ms. Ditto discussed how utilities bolster their communications systems through redundancy and other elements to ensure their networks remain functional—or can quickly become functional—during natural or man-made disasters.
Despite all this preparation, Ms. Ditto noted that policies from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) related to the spectrum necessary for wireless communications networks could threaten the reliability of utility ICT systems, which could in turn impact the electricity industry as well.
“FERC’s regulations require electric utilities to meet stringent reliability standards in order to provide the highest levels of reliable service as demanded by the government and, more importantly, the industry’s customers,” Ms. Ditto said. “Integral to the utility industry’s compliance with these regulations is access to interference-free spectrum. Without access to adequate interference-free spectrum, private utility networks will not be as reliable as they are now. Yet, the FCC has pending proceedings that threaten to compromise the safety, reliability and security of utility networks.”
Given the importance of utility communications networks to reliability, resilience, storm response, and even edge-of-the-grid technologies, the time is now to consider the cross-jurisdictional issues between the FCC and FERC. This Committee could lead the way, Ms. Ditto said.
“Because spectrum policy is managed by the FCC, and because the deployment of ICT networks is interwoven into the deployment of electric service, we believe it is time to hold cross-agency and cross-jurisdictional discussions between the FCC and FERC about the growing interdependencies between the energy and telecommunications industries,” she said. “Such meetings would build understanding between the two regulatory bodies and the industries they regulate. On behalf of our members, we urge the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to encourage a formal relationship between the FCC and FERC.”
For more information, please contact the UTC Public Policy Team.
Like they did after Hurricane Florence and every powerful storm, electric utility crews have mobilized to help restore service and rebuild infrastructure after Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida panhandle and the Southeast.
At press time, more than 1.7 million customers were out of power as a result of the powerful Category 4 hurricane, which the majority in Florida and North Carolina, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). Outages have also been reported in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia.
Even as crews continue repairs in the hardest hit areas from Florence, nearly 33,000 utility workers from 24 states have joined the effort to bring power back as safely as possible, according to the Edison Electric Institute.
It is unclear how long customers will be out of service. The storm’s intensity—one of the strongest to hit the Florida panhandle in history—left a trail of devastation from Florida through portions of the Southeastern U.S. Impacted utilities have not offered timelines for the worst-hit areas, where in a few spots the electricity infrastructure may need to be rebuilt, media reports have indicated.
Although Virginia was spared from the brunt of the storm, the state suffered more than 520,000 outages as the remnants of the hurricane plowed through Thursday night into Friday morning, accompanied by 75-MPH winds and heavy rain. Dominion Energy, for example, saw peak outages in North Carolina and Virginia top 545,000. The utility said its initial focus is on coordinating with local and national emergency responders to restore power to facilities critical for public health, such as hospitals, fire and police departments, and public water systems.
UTC staff sends its thoughts and prayers to those impacted by the storm, and its immense gratitude to the tens of thousands of utility crews assisting in the restoration process. UTC staff has distributed updates from industry and government sources to our members as warranted.
UTC President and CEO Joy Ditto will be appearing at three major national conferences over the next five weeks, demonstrating UTC’s thought leadership highlighting the intersection of the energy and telecommunications industries, and the policy improvements that are needed for electric utilities deploying ITC networks.
First, Ms. Ditto will participate in the closing keynote panel at the Energy Storage Association’s Energy Storage STUDIO conference on Wednesday, Oct. 17, in Charlotte, N.C. She will discuss the role utility communications networks play in enabling advanced technologies such as energy storage.
Following this event, Ms. Ditto will then participate in a panel discussion at the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates’ (NASUCA) Annual Meeting on Nov. 12 in Orlando, FL. The panel is entitled “Supporting Utility Communications Networks” and features state utility regulators and consumer advocates. Panelists will discuss the technological and regulatory challenges associated with deploying and maintaining utility communications networks.
Last but not least will be Ms. Ditto’s appearance—for the second consecutive year—on a general session at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ (NARUC) Annual Meeting, also in Orlando.
Last year Ms. Ditto discussed utility hurricane preparations in light of the damaging 2017 hurricane season (Industry Intelligence, Nov. 17, 2017). This year, she will discuss critical infrastructure interdependencies and how the electricity and telecommunications sectors rely on each other during natural disasters.
Ms. Ditto’s participation in two general sessions in consecutive years is rare and a testament to the increasing awareness around these issues that UTC’s advocacy efforts have brought forward. NARUC meetings routinely attract more than 1,000 registrants, including key federal and state policymakers and other stakeholder and industry leaders.
Please contact the UTC Public Policy Team with any questions.
A snapshot of upcoming UTC webinars, events, and conference calls.