Closed Circuit

​By Philip Reed

In late 2019, Peak Reliability Coordinator closed its doors for good. This resulted in a number of changes for WAPA. Southwest Power Pool began providing RC services to WAPA’s Western Area Upper Great Plains – West, Western Area Colorado Missouri and Western Area Lower Colorado balancing authorities and the associated transmission operators Dec. 3. Sierra Nevada, a transmission operator within the Balancing Authority of Northern California, began receiving RC services from the California Independent System Operator.

Those were the big changes, but one other consideration of Peak RC’s closure didn’t get as much publicity: What would happen to Peak’s historical synchrophasor data?

“People in the industry started to raise the question of what would happen to the synchrophasor data Peak had collected over its many years of operation,” said Information Technology Specialist and Senior Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition Advisor Jodi Jensen, “but there weren’t quite as many people stepping forward to resolve the issue.”

Part of the reason the question was going unresolved was that it wasn’t as immediately pressing as other concerns. WAPA, like most others in the industry, was not using synchrophasor data for real-time visibility purposes; the data was mainly something that was being considered and evaluated for future use.

“There wasn’t an immediate, urgent push from folks to save this data,” Jensen said. “It was important to get this sorted out before Peak shut down and the data was lost, but it wasn’t getting the attention it needed.”

A team effort

The potential value of the data wasn’t lost on the Western Electricity Coordinating Council or the Department of Energy; both entities were concerned about its preservation.

“The DOE wanted to make sure it could have access to this data for continued research,” said Jensen. “WAPA is a signatory to the data-sharing agreement that allows the department to study data from other entities, so the DOE needed us to be the conduit for this data.”

She and Electrical Engineer Josh Moyers stepped up to help. 

“I figured this could be an easy win for WAPA,” Jensen said. “Peak gives us the tapes; we stick them on the shelf. If anyone needs them, we’ve got them.” She laughed. “It turned out to not be that easy.”

Peak RC was unable to simply hand over the tapes because they included data belonging to other companies as well. Peak RC had the right to retain data from those organizations, but WAPA did not. Even though it would be much more work than she anticipated, Jensen realized the organization would have the honor of rescuing the data for the entire industry.

“WAPA would get to be a hero,” she said. “How could we not get a little bit excited about that?”

The problem was that WAPA did not have the resources to scour the tapes and make local copies of all of the appropriate data.

“IT did not have resources to spare,” Jensen explained. “Part of my goal was to achieve this without engaging too many resources. We were busy with the RC transition and we needed to not disrupt the transition to make this happen. And so we didn’t interrupt it. Instead of investing a lot of technical resources, we succeeded through partnering and coordinating efforts.”

She and Moyers worked with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and arranged for them to handle the copying of the synchrophasor data from the tapes. PNNL built the infrastructure necessary to copy the data.

Jensen called this partnership “a big win.”

“They were really excited,” Jensen said. “We were, too. It’s a real example of proactive industry partnership. We were doing this for all of the Western Interconnection utilities. We were going to make it possible for others to get the data if it could help them.”

Would utilities be interested in past data, though? Wouldn’t recent data be more useful?

“There’s always new data being collected,” Jensen explained. “And it’s true that at some point the old data doesn’t carry quite the same value. But past data can still be valuable; it may have captured certain power-system events that aren’t going to happen again. If anybody wants to study those historic events, and learn from them, having access to any data that was captured at the time is crucial.”

Tight timelines

Nobody involved with the process knew quite how long it would take; PNNL wouldn’t know what it was up against until it actually saw the data involved, and Peak RC was obviously not going to be around for much longer.

What’s more, Peak RC was still ultimately responsible for the data; before they could close out their obligations, they would have to deliver all of the tapes to a data and records management company.

“At that point those tapes would become very hard or impossible for people to get to,” Jensen explained. “Once it’s turned over, there’s no organization responsible for it anymore. It’s as good as gone. Getting the data copied before this happened was important.”

Time, as they say, was of the essence. The parties involved set a deadline of Nov. 28, 2019, knowing they would have to work very hard to finish in time.

“When someone says the word ‘data,’ it’s hard to envision what they actually mean,” explained Jensen. “In this case, what it meant was boxes full of tapes, with the amount of data on them being measurable in terabytes. The copying process for each tape was significant.”

Even physically relocating the tapes was a project in itself. Some tapes were in Loveland, Colorado, and the rest were in Vancouver, Canada. Senior Power Operations Specialist Sean Erickson facilitated the transfer of the Loveland tapes to WAPA. Then PNNL, which is in Portland, Oregon, traveled to get the tapes from WAPA.

“PNNL staff drove to Vancouver to pick up some of the tapes,” Jensen said. “Their lab is around four hours from Vancouver, but they drove there. Then they flew out to Denver and drove up to Loveland to get the others, all so there was no chance for anything to get lost or damaged in shipping. They did a lot of work for us to make it easy for us. They were very good partners.”

It took a lot of coordination and cooperation, but the task was completed three days ahead of the deadline.

“We returned the tapes to Peak on time!” Jensen said, still excited by the success of the initiative. “On Nov. 25, the tapes made it back to Peak, and Peak got them to the data and records management company.”

PNNL copied the synchrophasor data for WAPA, WAPA can archive it for future reference and Peak RC closed out their responsibility for the data on time. No data was lost, damaged or compromised. Many would say this was an all-around success, but Jensen did walk away with some lessons learned.

“If I had known how long the process was going to take, I would have tried to get things moving a little sooner,” she said. “But I don’t want to dwell on that, because frankly I think everyone was thinking this is going to be too hard to do at all.”

The fact that this happened – however long it took or however many parties were involved – is to be commended.

“When I first agreed to do this, if you look at the alternative, nobody was going to preserve this data and it would be gone,” she said. “So it was worth a try. It was worth a try to get this data so people could keep and use it.”

Good stewards

Now that WAPA has the data, the next step is to decide how to handle data extraction when requests are received.

“We want to enable other utilities to get a copy of their data if they want it,” Jensen said. “If they don’t want it but they want DOE to have it, we need to put together a legal document.”

Getting letters of agreement in place to protect the data has required engagement and support from Operations Manager Jon Aust, Public Utilities Specialist Jodee Miller and General Attorney-Adviser Koji Kawamura. Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Howard has also been instrumental through all stages of this project.

“We want to be very considerate of the other entities’ data,” Jensen said. “We want to go the extra mile to make sure we are honoring the data ownership piece of this.”

Jensen is proud of what WAPA has managed to accomplish in such a small window of time through partnerships that will advance innovative research for the electric industry.

“We’re helping DOE, we’re partnering with the national labs, WECC was happy WAPA was going to play a role, Peak was happy because there are engineers there who realize the value of this effort for future innovation,” she concluded. “People are really happy that we’re saving the data. We really were able to create a win all around.”

What is a synchrophasor?

A synchrophasor is a sophisticated monitoring device that can measure the instantaneous voltage, current and frequency at specific locations on the grid. This gives operators a near-real-time picture of what is happening on the system, and allows them to make decisions to prevent power outages. Source: 

​Note: Reed is a public affairs specialist.

Last modified on March 6th, 2024