The regulatory requirements of the United States utility and power sector changes quickly. How does the sector keep up with the fast pace of regulatory change?
That’s where compliance consultancy comes in. Utility Services, founded in 2007, is a service organisation dedicated to assisting US and Canadian companies in their energy compliance, security and reliability to the performance requirements approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Today, Utility Services have served clients in 47 of the 48 contiguous states plus most of the Southern tier provinces in Canada. They have represented over 25 GW of nameplate generation in the areas of compliance, research, and standard development, along with dozens of distribution and transmission service organisations.
Keeping up to date with regulations, industry trends and new technology across all ERO Enterprise in America and Canada can be significant effort. With 15 employees and several professional consultants, Utility Services provides individually customised solutions that requires proactive planning and foresight.
We talk to Brian Evans-Mongeon, CEO and President of Utility Services about how his company have successfully undertaken more than 400 audits, guided self-certifications and spot checks in its history – as well as sharing his vision and strategy for the future.
Hello Brian. What is NERC and what are its responsibilities?
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) is a not-for-profit international regulatory authority which assures the reliability and security of the bulk power system in North America. It oversees six regional reliability entities and encompasses all of the interconnected power systems of the continental United States, several Canadian provinces, and a portion of Baja California in Mexico, serving more than 334 million users in total.
NERC’s major responsibilities include developing standards for power system operation, monitoring and enforcing compliance with these standards and providing educational and training resources as part of accredited programmes to ensure operatives are suitably qualified and proficient.
How does Utility Services help clients meet these obligations?
Keeping pace with a constantly changing market is vital. Since the company’s inception in 2007, compliance and reliability programmes have steadily increased in scope, and the associated requirements have demanded greater resources year on year.
Utility Services has an established and dedicated work force, including a nationwide network of consultants with specialized expertise. Together they have over 300 years’ experience in the electric industry. Many of our customers don’t have enough time, personnel or other resources to demonstrate compliance and meet reliability objectives, so our team can directly assist and provide coverage when and where needed.
The role of Utility Services is pivotal in assisting with any obligation imposed on an entity – whether that be the collection, analysis or submitting of data or indeed individual performance obligations. There is little doubt that the unrivalled knowledge and expertise of our staff and partners have undoubtedly contributed to our excellent service sector reputation.
In 2020 we are going to offer new monitoring and tracking software tools that will help registered organisations with the performance requirements outlined in the reliability standards and other programs. This tool is currently being finalised and will be offered to the industry to assist them with regulatory obligations.
While primarily designed against the NERC Standards, entities could use it to measure and monitor performance for internal control efforts as well. Utility Services believes that this will enable customers to be better prepared for audits and conditions when called upon to demonstrate performance.
You place a high priority on client education and awareness. Can you tell us more about what you offer?
Education plays an important and ongoing function. Utility Services organises ‘client days’ which give customers an opportunity to either attend in person or online and receive up to date awareness sessions on NERC activities and requirements. Technical staff are also on hand to answer any queries which may arise.
Additionally, the organisation provides its tailor-made ‘Reliability Assurance Continuing Education’ (RACE) programme in the form of weekly, bi-weekly or monthly calls and presentations to entities who wish to understand more about the performance obligations outlined in the various standards and requirements.
In 2020, Utility Services will be looking to offer the RACE program and RACE Scorecard to our customers online. Customising information in this way enables clients to devote time, energy and resources on their day-to-day business operations and fulfil their obligations through the most relevant and cost-effective methods.
The RACE Scorecard will act as a transcript documenting a student’s courses and training. In addition, all Utility Service clients can opt to receive a bi-weekly newsletter – the US News & NERC Report – which addresses current compliance news and topics, upcoming meetings and general ‘need to know’ information.
Why do collaboration and communication matter?
Collaboration and communication are key ingredients in Utility Services’ recipe for success. The organisation’s strong industry partnerships provide the capacity to offer a broader spectrum of services without compromising on efficiency. Creating long-lasting relationships by treating all clients with the respect and professionalism they deserve has been, and will continue to be, an established work ethic.
Communication is vital to ensuring our organisation offers clients the high-quality service they expect. With our customers based all over the US and Canada, our staff utilise telephony systems, a virtualised server network and other forms of video and communications systems to achieve this.
Our staff has recently transformed our network and telephony platforms to better assess a customer’s work and performance. These also offer enhanced communication protocols to enable data and information exchange.
The knowledge and expertise of our staff provides invaluable guidance to customers, and gives Utility Services a competitive edge in the market. The company has prepared more entities for audits and led more compliance audits than any other organisation in the sector.
What are your plans for the future?
Advancements in technology highlight a need for greater awareness of both cyber and physical security protection. Research shows that security attacks on the utility industry have increased dramatically since 2012 and that the energy sector leads all others in the amount of attacks sustained.
As both the size of the industry and the use and capabilities of technology continues to expand, a far greater resilience to protect electric systems and devices will need to be deployed to cope with the more frequent and sophisticated attacks.
Our ‘Securing the Grid’ exercises continue to be huge growth area for the company. We fashion table-top exercises to meet the customer’s needs, whether cyber, physical, emergency management, or other incidences. Utility Services offers customers the choice of a variety of scenario types from its catalogue of exercises. In a single afternoon, Utility Services can assess an organisation’s ability to be prepared for all types of risk scenarios.
Our ability to quickly assess technological, alongside regulatory changes, is what puts our company ahead of any other. You can rely on us.