FERC and NERC issued a joint notice on Wednesday providing compliance flexibility on certain key reliability standard requirements during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Although this guidance can allow utilities to avoid findings of noncompliance for certain requirements where timely compliance activities could be difficult due to personnel shortages and other limitations, this is not a blanket waiver. Instead, utilities must provide written notices of their intent to use this guidance. The content of those notices must be drafted carefully as they will be necessary to demonstrate compliance in future reviews.
The new flexibility is as follows:
- Due to the limited availability of NERC-certified operators, if a utility cannot provide sufficient certified operators to comply with PER-003 due to COVID-19, the use of noncertified operators is permitted through the end of 2020. In order to take advantage of this flexibility, utilities will need to notify their Regional Entities and Reliability Coordinators (ISO-NE and NYISO). Training requirements, such as those in PER-005, continue to apply.
- Because of the resource limitations during this time period, periodic actions required by the reliability standards that must occur between March 1, 2020, and July 31, 2020, can be missed on a case-by-case basis if the activities cannot be performed due to COVID-19. To use this flexibility, utilities will need to notify their regional entities of the specific actions that will be missed. These periodic requirements exist in both the Operating & Planning standards (such as protection system maintenance and testing) and the Critical Infrastructure Protection standards (such as patching and vulnerability assessments).
FERC and NERC have not provided guidance on submitting the required notices, but with the understanding that these notices will be compliance documentation, utilities may wish to implement the following:
- Submit the notices in advance of reliance on this guidance, keeping copies for future production in compliance reviews
- Send the same notice to all entities simultaneously
- Provide specificity in the notice regarding the (a) nature of the flexibility that is needed, (b) the link between that need and the ongoing pandemic, and (c) the plan for reevaluating the need and achieving a normal state of compliance
- Provide details, if any, regarding measures to maintain a state as close to compliance as practicable under the circumstances
- Ensure an appropriate executive signs the notice to demonstrate executive oversight
Finally, all in-person audits, spot checks, certifications, and the like are suspended at least through the end of July. The notice suggests that the regional entities will attempt to perform these audits as “desk audits” where interactions are limited to phone calls and remote document reviews, but the extent to which compliance reviews will continue at their current pace under those circumstances is undetermined.
This guidance is subject to modification as the situation changes.