Plants, Poles and Plugs
Reliable Service Is The Result Of Cooperation And Communication Among Electric Companies.
The North American electric system is comprised of an interconnected network of generating plants, transmission lines, and distribution facilities. Transmission lines link the generators of electricity to the distributors, transporting electricity to local companies, which in turn deliver it to consumers.
These transmission lines are divided into three regional grids: one in the East that connects the Eastern seaboard and the Plains states and Canadian provinces; another in the West that connects the Pacific coast and the Mountain states and provinces; and another that operates in most of Texas. These networks provide electric companies with alternative power paths in emergencies and allow them to buy and sell power from each other and from other power suppliers.
The structure of the grid makes reliability possible, but what makes it a reality is the coordination in operations of the electric companies that make up this network. For the electric power grid to work smoothly and without disruption, a transmission operator must be aware not only of the power flowing over its own system created by its own generators and the electricity demand of its customers, but it also must be aware of the transfers of electricity between other systems and how those transfers might flow through its own system.
To coordinate power flow, control areas have been formed. Control areas consisting of one or several transmission operators ensure that there is always a balance between electricity generation and the amount of electricity needed at any given moment to meet demand. A margin of capacity beyond the actual load is needed to ensure reliability at times of peak demand and to provide for maintenance down times. Operators use computerized systems to exercise minute-by-minute control over the network and to ensure that power transfers occur during specified times in pre-arranged amounts.
EPAct 2005 mandated important changes to help ensure electric reliability in several ways. To begin, it made electric reliability rules mandatory on all users, owners, and operators of the nation’s transmission system. To accomplish this, an independent, self-regulating organization, called the Electric Reliability Organization (ERO), was created with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) oversight to enforce reliability rules. FERC certified the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to serve as the ERO in July 2006, and the ERO became operational in January 2007.
EPAct 2005 also gives FERC the authority to approve the location, or 'siting,' of electric transmission facilities in certain areas if states cannot or will not approve the siting in a timely manner. The law also streamlines the permitting process of federal agencies by designating the U.S. Department of Energy as the lead agency for federal permits needed for transmission projects.