Locust Grove — The Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA), recently announced it has taken measures to improve the reliability of its service.

Since 1940, the electric utility has been generating and transmitting electricity in Oklahoma, providing power to communities, electric cooperatives and industries. And just as annual preventive maintenance insures the reliability of generating equipment, annual drills help insure the readiness of the GRDA personnel responsible for dispatching the power across the system, according to GRDA spokemen.

At GRDA, those personnel are part of the Systems Operations Department, and in mid-November, several of them took part in a Southwest Power Pool (SPP) Restoration Drill.

The SPP is a Regional Transmission Organization (RTO), mandated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to insure that reliable power, adequate transmission infrastructure, and competitive wholesale prices of electricity are maintained. Annual drills help to achieve that goal. GRDA is one of 48 utilities that comprise the SPP, spread across eight states in the Southwestern United States. GRDA Chief Executive Officer Kevin Easley is also a member of the SPP Board of Directors/Members Committee.

The SPP is the only region using the Dispatcher Training Simulator (which is a digital simulation of the entire SPP footprint.) This cutting edge technology means good news for GRDA’s customers. Together, the simulator and training is equipping GRDA System Operators with the knowledge and skills they would need to rapidly return the GRDA energy delivery system back to normal in case of a complete system blackout.

The recent restoration drill was designed to challenge and test electric system operators and their ability to handle the various circumstances that result from outages and blackouts while working toward the main objective of restoring system stability. The SPP drills have been such a success that the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has cited them as an Example of Excellence in their recent audit. In addition, Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL) has inquired as to the functionality of the drills for Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC), another RTO.

 “A drill like this takes the system operators out of their element and puts them in a critical decision making scenario,” said John Kerr, GRDA System Operations Supervisor. “Each one is different and they must find the answers on their own.”

Kerr, recently named Chair of the SPP Operations Training Working Group (OTWG), also serves as the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) Continuing Education Provider for GRDA, said the drill does a good job of preparing the GRDA operators for those emergencies they hope to never face.

 “If you actually do something yourself, hands on, then you retain that information, which leads to quicker responses, which means getting the lights back on quicker,” said Kerr. “Training means shorter recovery time, and that’s the goal.

In a restoration drill, the operators must try to get the electric system back online after a complete outage. “

According to Kerr, NERC requires the drills as part of the Compliance Program, which is to improve the reliability and security of the power system in North America. The drill is also part of the NERC certification process that each GRDA System Operator must complete.

 “We have two sub-regional drills per year [in the SPP] and two regional drills, as well as four GRDA restoration drills,” said Kerr. “Our guys participate in eight or more drills per year.”

The drills have evolved in the past few years, from scripts to be read aloud on a conference call to the same scripts read over the SPP satellite phone, to viewing the pool simulations over the internet, to actually operating the GRDA system via Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection. This visual drill allows progress to be seen, along with potential problem and setbacks.

All GRDA system operators take part in simulated scenarios of instability and blackouts. Following the restoration plan and under Kerr’s supervision, operators were left on their own to resolve each problem, from the simple and quick to the longer and more complex. The tasks that the operators performed in the virtual restoration are identical to the ones that would be carried out during an actual emergency situation.

 “These guys are dedicated,” said Kerr. “They are really enthused and working hard to do a good job.”

Although each operator performance will be independently evaluated, Kerr said the true measure of success lies in the skills acquired.

 “If they only learn one thing from this drill, that is one tool they now have that they didn’t have before- that’s a success,” he said. "The better prepared each system operator is, the quicker the power will be restored in an emergency."

Easley agreed, adding that even though emergencies may come as a surprise, the response should be no surprise.

“We don’t always know what could impact our system, like ice storms or tornados, but this aggressive training program means we do know how we will react,” said Easley. “Because reliability is what GRDA is known for and what our customers expect.”