FERC Order 676-H adopts NAESB standards

Monday, September 22, 2014

Last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued Order No. 676-H, adopting and incorporating into its regulations most of the latest version of a set public utility business practice standards and communications protocols developed by the North American Energy Standards Board (NAESB).  While most of the NAESB standards will now become mandatory and enforceable, to enable smart grid innovation the Commission posted NAESB's five Smart Grid standards as non-binding guidance.

Industry standards enable cooperation and communication, and can lead to more efficient and competitive markets.  Formally known as Version 003 of the Standards for Business Practices and Communication Protocols for Public Utilities adopted by NAESB's Wholesale Electric Quadrant (WEQ), the newly adopted standards represent the latest evolution of NAESB's consensus-based standards for public utilities.  NAESB is an ANSI-accredited non-profit standards development organization formed to develop and promote business practice standards that promote a seamless marketplace for wholesale and retail natural gas and electricity. Since issuing Order No. 676 in 2006, the FERC has incorporated elements of NAESB's standards into its regulations.

While the FERC made most of the NAESB standards mandatory, it decided to include NAESB's smart grid standards only "informationally, as guidance."  While FERC noted that the smart grid standards have value and should be adopted by public utilities, it ultimately agreed with utility trade group Edison Electric Institute and the ISO/RTO Council that NAESB's five Smart Grid standards should neither be incorporated into formal federal regulation nor be enforceable and mandatory.  Notably, as prepared by NAESB the Smart Grid standards are meant to be optional and informative, not prescriptive or restrictive, and could prove difficult to enforce.

Thus to "encourage further developments in interoperability, technological innovation and standardization", the FERC chose to include NAESB's five smart grid standards in Order No. 676-H as guidance, but not to incorporate them into its formal, enforceable regulations.

Through Order No. 676-H, the FERC hopes to improve business practices and interoperability among public utilities.  The order also shows an intent to foster smart grid technologies, without stifling their development through overly prescriptive or unenforceable regulations.  Will Order 676-H usher in a new era of smart grid and utility cooperation?

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