Maine - A Journey Through State Grid-Protective Legislation & the Threat of Regulatory Capture

What happened in Maine when the state legislature, receiving testimony from national experts, resolved to protect the electric transmission system from severe geomagnetic disturbances (GMD) and manmade electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons is a study in the stresses imposed by appointed regulatory bodies on legislative policy-making bodies. Here is a sketch of actions by the state and electric utilities, operating at both the federal and state levels.

The Maine Legislation

Legislative Document 131 (LD 131), “An Act to Secure the Safety of Electrical Power Transmission Lines,” initially required all current and future transmission system upgrades to include protections against both solar storms (GMD/geomagnetic disturbance) and manmade electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons and terrorist devices. The Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Technology (EUT) of the Maine State Legislature held the public hearing in February 2013, and work sessions thereafter.

The electric industry initially opposed the legislation claiming that it was not needed. After compelling, data-driven testimony by independent experts showing big gaps in the security of the Maine grid, the EUT decided the whole grid needed to be protected. They turned LD 131 into a “resolve” that required the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to examine the vulnerabilities of the transmission system andentify options for mitigation measures – including low-, mid-, and high-cost options, and a time frame for adoption.

The committee approved the bill unanimously as “emergency” legislation. Then, the House approved LD 131 unanimously; the Senate approved by a 32-3 vote; and the resolve became law on 11 June 2013. Its preamble states:

Whereas, in the judgment of the Legislature, these facts create an emergency within the meaning of the Constitution of Maine and require the following legislation as immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety; now, therefore, be it.” (See the full text of the June 2013 Maine legislation on GMD and EMP)

It was a very clear directive. The Maine legislation called for a report from the Maine PUC due by 20 January 2014. Thomas Welch, chair of the Maine PUC, anticipated an on-time report; he noted that, as chair of the PUC, he could approve the reliability upgrades without awaiting the report. Representative Barry J. Hobbins (D-Saco) had promised at the close of the public hearing of the EUT, “I don’t know what we are going to do, but I can tell you this – we are going to do something!” The legislative intent was clear: provide the information needed to protect Maine’s electric grid. This was landmark legislation, heralded nationally and internationally. A single state had done what Washington, D.C., never has – passed legislation for GMD and EMP protections.

Inadequacy of Federal Protection 

Efforts seeking GMD and EMP grid protections at the federal level have been frustrated. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has no legal authority to initiate “reliability standards” for the electric utilities. Only the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the industry association, has that authority.

When FERC tells NERC they must set those standards, NERC writes weak standards, say the standards are not needed, or argue for more time. With effective lobbying, the utility industry has repeatedly blocked federal legislation that would give FERC power to require higher reliability standards than those NERC proposes.

The electric utilities comprise the only national infrastructure that is self-regulated. Some independent experts worry about the degree to which FERC seems to accommodate them. William R. Harris, secretary and counsel to the Foundation for Resilient Societies, on 1 November 2014, compared the regulatory capture problem at FERC with that at the Federal Reserve in a shared email among interested parties, responding to a publication article.

What a contrast: the Fed [Federal Reserve Bank] has extraordinary information subpoena powers, sanctions authority, and standard-setting that is not subject to veto by the regulated banks. Yet the Fed acts as if they must “get along” with the regulated firms even when they place society at great risk.

fortiori, far weaker FERC Commissioners act as if they need to ingratiate themselves to the electric utility industry that operates with monopoly power to initiate reliability standard-setting.

The behavioral aspects of “regulatory capture” appear paramount. With FERC, Cheryl LaFleur (Chair of FERC) acts as if she has a psychological “need” to be in sync with the NERC culture, and to act as if scientifically-defective NERC reliability standards are OK because, as members of the NERC Board keep repeating: “Reliability is in our DNA.”

The key difference between FERC and the Maine PUC is that the PUC, like the Federal Reserve Bank, has the authority to require the utilities to employ specific protections, even without waiting for a study. Also, like the Federal Reserve Bank, the PUC has come under scrutiny by Maine’s Government Oversight Committee for a possible “culture problem,” otherwise described above as “regulatory capture.”

Protecting Maine’s transformers, which would be irreplaceable for years in the event of a widespread blackout, conservatively is estimated at $7.2 million, or about $2.80 per household per year for about 5 years. If shared across all the states within the target area of ISO New England – the independent, not-for-profit company authorized by FERC to perform grid operation, market administration, and power-system planning roles for the region – that cost would drop to about $0.35. The protective equipment should last at least two decades, so the average cost over the life of the equipment would then be either $0.70 or $0.09 per household, respectively.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission Takes Over 

From a hopeful start, in which the PUC provided an online docket for the study (Maine PUC docket 2013-00415, available online), it devolved into a draft report in December 2013 that showed utility bias, recommending: do nothing; wait for Washington. Reaction to the report was quick, professional, and condemnatory. National experts again turned their attention to the report and detailed errors, omissions, and shortcomings, and made corrective recommendations. Dr. Peter Pry, executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, conducted analysis that found the report to be “dishonest.” His analysis is on the online Maine PUC docket 2013-00415.

When Welch presented the final report to the EUT in January 2014, he acknowledged GMD and EMP were serious problems, hence the PUC needed more time. Delay was reminiscent of NERC/FERC history. Welch proposed a task force with Central Maine Power Company (CMP) as coordinator. CMP had a convenient location, but had been unable to answer legislator questions during hearings.  At one point, Chair Hobbins said, “I feel if we ask you one more question, you’ll throw up your hands and say, ‘guilty’.” The sponsor and experts welcomed the revived focus, and inclusion of outside expertise.

Two independent experts were invited to participate: John Kappenman of Storm Analysis Consultants; and Thomas Popik, president of the Foundation for Resilient Societies. EMPrimus, a research and development company that had offered expert docket input, also was invited to participate. The monthly meetings focused predominantly on GMD. CMP’s Brian Huntley’s leadership  seemed strong, but there was some worry that, as with NERC/FERC processes, the report would be sabotaged before it was complete.

In September 2014, Huntley left CMP, and the task force meeting was canceled.  On September 24, Welch assured the Government Oversight Committee that the report would be out by December, EMP would be covered, and staffers were working with EMPrimus. Later that day, he announced his early retirement for 31 December 2014. [Note: As the bill’s sponsor, I made phone calls to CMP that were not answered.]

Central Maine Power Company Finds No Protective Equipment Is Needed – The Grid Could Withstand Any Threat Their Model Could Conceive 

The last study group meeting was on 27 October 2014. Justin Michlig, lead engineer of system planning at CMP, who became the new CMP project manager of the study in late September, invited EMPrimus to present its report. EMPrimus utilized independent (PowerWorld Corporation) modeling, real-world historical data, mitigation equipment, and NASA probabilities for a 100-year solar storm (12 percent within a decade, 50 percent within a 30-year period). The EMPrimus report found that “reactive power” equipment might temporarily stabilize grid voltage in a solar storm. However, there would be five-minute periods necessary to reset key equipment, during which the grid would be at risk of collapse. During prior solar storms, Maine’s reactive power equipment had become inoperable on multiple occasions. EMPrimus proposed the installation of 18 neutral ground blocking devices. These would protect transformers and keep geomagnetically induced currents out of the high-voltage Maine transmission system.

Then, Michlig presented CMP’s analysis. The modeling relied on the technically dubious NERC “GMD Benchmark Event” methodology in the still unapproved standard and did not use CMP’s own recorded data for validation. The CMP scenario assumed that “reactive power” equipment always worked, despite outages in past solar storms. CMP found no need to install any protective equipment. Michlig gave no answers to questions of why they ignored their own historical data. Lisa Fink, PUC staff attorney and project manager of the PUC work, backed up Michlig. The CMP Draft Report will be available later in November 2014 for comment.

It was surreal, appearing that Maine’s PUC exhibited the kind of “regulatory capture” that has troubled the Maine public and its legislature. Like NERC, the PUC had cordially supported the mission, opened an online docket, and then manipulated data and assumptions to avert protection of the Maine grid.

The emergency legislation did not ask for the recommendation of the Maine task force and its PUC staffers. It asked them toentify vulnerabilities, options for protections, and costs, so that the legislature, on behalf of the people of the State of Maine, could make their own decisions on protections. [Note: As sponsor, I reminded them of that at the meeting and asked them to be sure to read the legislation; they said they would.] 

At the time of this writing, the nation still awaits the draft report.  However, the PUC has taken down the online docket – a recent change that blocks public view.  


Update (11/21/14): Representative Boland, working with others, was able to get the docket back up online.  

Andrea Boland

State Representative Andrea Boland recently completed 8 years (or 4 terms) in the Maine legislature. She is considered a leader in safety issues of electromagnetic radiation, especially from cellphones and smart meters. She became involved in electric grid protection against electromagnetic pulse and geomagnetic solar storms (GMD) at the suggestion of her regular scientific advisor. Her work is supported by several national experts. She has a B.A. degree from Elmira College and an MBA from Northeastern University, and studied at the Sorbonne and Institute of Political Studies in Paris. She was awarded the 2011 Health Freedom Hero Award by the National Health Federation for her work on health freedom and safety. Her legislative work has led to confronting major corporate interests on matters of transparency and regulatory capture, and public protections.



No tags to display


Translate »