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).

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) approved applications submitted by PSEG Nuclear LLC seeking subsidies of up to $300 million annually, in the form of zero emission credits (ZECs), for PSEG’s Hope Creek and Salem 1 and 2 nuclear generating stations on April 18. The PSEG applications were filed on December 19, 2018, after New Jersey enacted legislation on May 23, 2018, establishing a ZEC program for the state (the ZEC Act).

In a June 26 letter, a broad coalition of 77 former government officials, lawmakers, and industry leaders urged US Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry to take “concrete steps” to prevent the premature shutdown of any additional nuclear power plants.

The letter commends Secretary Perry’s support of the nuclear industry to date but asks him to specifically promote the national security significance of nuclear energy. In doing so, the letter underscores the key role that nuclear energy plays in national security, particularly as an essential component of electric grid resilience and the largest source of emission-free generation.

The letter acknowledges that discussions of the general importance of nuclear energy are underway at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as well as at the grid operator and state regulator levels, but asserts that only DOE has the power to integrate nuclear power into the broader national security imperatives. The letter notes that such an integration will take time to consider, but asks Secretary Perry to ensure that no more nuclear power plants are closed in the meantime.

This letter appears to support President Donald Trump’s June 1 request for DOE to take measures to prevent further closures of nuclear power plants due to a national security interest in securing the national power grid's resilience.

The commissioners from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) held a joint meeting to discuss grid reliability and cybersecurity, including issues such as nuclear new build that factor into power availability. Both NRC and FERC staff provided presentations on the activities of both agencies to promote a stable, resilient, and secure grid, and a representative from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) addressed grid reliability.

President Donald Trump directed Energy Secretary Rick Perry late last week to “prepare immediate steps to stop the loss” of “fuel-secure power facilities” arguing that a decline in coal and nuclear generation is jeopardizing the nation’s security. The federal government has not yet disclosed what those steps might be or which generation facilities are at issue. Nonetheless, press reports from CNN and Bloomberg, among others, suggest that the US Department of Energy (DOE) is considering a directive requiring Independent System Operators and Regional Transmission Operators (ISOs/RTOs) to purchase energy from designated “fuel-secure” plants for a period of up to, and possibly more than, 24 months to prevent any near-term decommissioning.