General Session panel shares resilience lessons learned

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Collaboration. Communication. Interdependence. Community. Unity.

Those words kept cropping up at the second General Session panel, “Lessons Learned from Recent Events and Infrastructure Interdependencies,” Tuesday morning at the PJM annual meeting of members.

The day’s first panel, Framing the Resilience Landscape, set the table. Both panels built on the theme of resilience to paint a picture of the industry’s brave new world.

Tom O’Brien, PJM senior vice president and chief information officer, moderated the second.

Saul Rojas, vice president – Technical Compliance, New York Power Authority, said “the playbook didn’t fit the situation” when NYPA workers went to Puerto Rico to work on restoration after Hurricane Maria.

He said that NYPA is “pretty good at responding to our own incidents,” using previous events as a guidebook and adapting to situations. But, going to Puerto Rico after Maria – which hit the island 10 days after Hurricane Irma – was entirely different.

Rojas said he “never felt so powerless from management perspective,” as with the Maria restoration, unable to communicate with the NYPA workers, some of whom were working in mountain areas with little vegetation management.

So much was unique with Maria, Rojas said, from the slowness in ramping up the power to the use of drone technology in assessments to logistics – moving 450 utility workers and 350 trucks on barges. Touching on the human aspect, he said people were exhausted. They had to go home every day, tend to their personal lives in the months without power.

Rebuilding the system on Puerto Rico will require a reimagining of the grid – with aspects that can be carried to places beyond the island. New design considerations – no more power plants facing the water, more capital investment, a modern control system. Rojas said Puerto Rico, dependent on fossil fuels, should take advantage of its geography, incorporating microgrids and alternative energy resources.

Michael Hyland, senior vice president – Engineering Services, American Public Power Association, likened resilience to a fighter with the ability to snap back up after being decked.

Hyland pointed out that the APPA represents much of small-town America, places like Easton, MD, and Kutztown, PA, delivering retail electricity in every state but Hawaii.

He said that APPA members are working on some hardening of the grid and “we’re getting better at staging.” They drill for hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes to better prepare for any contingency.

He said, recent events have taught everyone in the industry – especially the munis – that they can’t work alone. “Getting involved in mutual aid,” he said, “until people are hit they might not see the value. Once you’ve been hit, you understand the value.”

For Don Daigler, director – Business Resilience, Southern California Edison, recent events were “unprecedented.” The utility dealt with fires before but nothing like the five wildfires at the same time over a several-week period last year.

Because of the strict California liability laws, burning debris that lands on a transmission line – a burning palm frond, for example, becomes the responsibility of the investor-owned utilities.

Southern California Edison proactively de-energizing some transmission lines as a public safety issue. “It’s a reality,” said Daigler. “When we get winds of a certain speed, we have to take action.” He said that SoCal Edison needed to use caution because it couldn’t just take people offline so it worked with communities to make sure that people such as critical care customers were protected.

Daigler said “some things we did very well; some we will reflect on and make changes.” Discoveries include reinforcing the system with sensitivities settings on relays, moving lines underground and concrete or resin poles.

 Caitlin Durkovich, a former assistant secretary of Infrastructure Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, now works for Toffler Associates. She pointed out how Alvin Toffler’s 1970 vision of Future Shock dovetailed with the cyber America of today.

She said that utilities have been able to learn from weather in the past but now are dealing with the unknown – misinformation and disinformation.

Every organization needs to be aware – how much do you know about your supply chain? With new businesses all around, flooding everyone with new information, how do you discern what is true and deal with it when responding to events.

She said it businesses should make sure resilience is not just another corporate idea – embed it in the culture. Make resilience culture as automatic as safety culture.

Scott Aaronson, vice president – Security and Preparedness, Edison Electric Institute, crystalized the previous presentations – whether it is an act of God or an act of war, physical or cyber security, it is the duty of PJM and everyone in the industry to keep the grid operational.

“How do we think bigger about social responsibility and national security?” he asked. “We are critical to health and safety of this country – the partnership of government and industry working together. We’re at a phenomenal time because of leadership. CEOs are making this a priority because we live and work in the communities we serve.”

Outgoing chair of the PJM Board, Howard Schneider, wrapped up the General Session, pointing out that resilience must be woven into all aspect of the industry, from rules to planning. He said the panels were helpful in advancing the collective understanding.