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NY Blackout, 2003. Photo by Brendan Loy. Source: Flickr Creative Commons.

NY Blackout, 2003. Photo by Brendan Loy. Source: Flickr Creative Commons.

In the last post, I gave a general description of the national electric grid. In this post, I will describe how The Grid is organized.

As we have seen in dramatic fashion several times, problems on The Grid can bring down wide areas of the whole network, plunging them into darkness and bringing life as we know it to an immediate halt.

(Click on photo at right for larger view.)

The first one of these was the famous 1965 blackout in New York. States affected included New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the Province of Ontario. In response to this incident and others that followed, the electric power industry formed an organization to study the problem and develop methods to prevent future occurrences. Over time, it developed into NERC, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation.

Today, NERC is a nonprofit corporation tasked with ensuring the long-term reliability of The Grid. NERC covers the contiguous 48 states, Canada except for the far north, and a small portion of Baja California. It divides its territory into 8 regional electrical reliability corporations.

Until recently, membership in NERC or in one of the regional corporations was not mandatory. However, after the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, NERC was designated as the only Electric Reliability Organization for the United States, and all power suppliers and distributors who participate in the bulk power network were required to join.

NERC develops national standards, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission adopts them, and they are then handed back to NERC for enforcement. They are enforceable with fines up to $1 million per day.

MO NERC Regions MapI noted above that NERC is divided into 8 regional corporations, called operating regions. NERC also divides itself into 18 reporting regions. The map at right shows them. Some of these have boundaries contiguous with NERC operating regions, others represent subdivisions of NERC operating regions, and still others have boundaries that follow the boundaries of Regional Transmission Organizations (discussed in the previous post).

(Click on map for larger view.)

This is all very confusing, and one wonders what is going on. Don’t think of The Grid as something that always covered all of the country. It didn’t. The idea of transmitting electricity to consumers from remote generating stations was part of The Grid from very early on. However, electrification came to cities first. Rural areas were generally thought to be difficult to electrify because the large distances required high infrastructure costs that would be born by relatively few people. This was even more the case in difficult terrain such as the Ozarks and the Appalachians. These regions were among the last to electrify.

Thus, The Grid is irregular. New electrical service expanded from existing service areas organically, not according to some overall plan of simplicity and symmetry. The flow of electricity through The Grid seems a bit chaotic and the boundaries of the NERC regions seem bizarre and arbitrary, but they have to do with how energy flowed into new regions from preexisting service areas before The Grid was interconnected.

Add the fact that NERC is in the process of realigning its regions, so the reporting and operating boundaries of 2010 may not be those of today. It’s enough to drive a person crazy! And yet The Grid is amazingly reliable, and NERC is tasked with keeping it that way.

The next post will focus on major energy flows along The Grid.


North American Electric Reliability Corporation. About NERC. http://www.nerc.com/AboutNERC/Pages/default.aspx.

Anderson, Pamela, and Donald Kari. 2010. Is your organization prepared for complaince with NERC reliability standards? Perkins Coie. http://www.perkinscoie.com/is-your-organization-prepared-for-compliance-with-nerc-reliability-standards-02-18-2010/

Nersesian, Roy. 2007. Energy for the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide to Conventional and Alternative Sources. Armonik, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

Wikipedia. Powersite Dam. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powersite_Dam.

Wikipedia. Adams Power Plant Transformer House. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adams_Power_Plant_Transformer_House.

Wikipedia. Tennessee Valley Authority. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennessee_Valley_Authority.

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