Southwestern Power Administration

Southwestern Hosts OE Secretary Bruce Walker

Bruce Walker, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Electricity (OE) of the Department of Energy (DOE), paid a visit to Southwestern’s Springfield and Nixa, Missouri, facilities on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Assistant Secretary Walker was accompanied by his Chief of Staff Michael Coe.

SWPA Deputy Administrator Marshall Boyken, SWPA Administrator Mike Wech, DOE OE Assistant Secretary Bruce Walker, DOE OE Chief of Staff Michael Coe, DOE OE Senior Advisor David Wells, SWPA Vice President of Operations Keeth Works, SWPA General Counsel John Bremer, and SWPA Director of the Division of System Protection and Communications Doug Johnson pause for a photo in front of SWPA’s Nixa Substation.

Walker and Coe joined David Wells, OE Senior Advisor, to discuss communications and cyber security issues related to the protection of Southwestern’s Operational Technology System (OTS), which, put simply, is the equipment and devices used to transmit and control power and energy on the electrical grid.

Southwestern Administrator Mike Wech and staff from Southwestern’s System Protection and Communications and Information Technology (IT) Divisions shared information about both Southwestern’s OTS and IT systems and discussed best practices for continuing to keep the systems safe.

Following the discussion in the morning, the group took a brief tour of the Springfield site, then headed to Nixa to tour the new Primary Control Center.  

Nixa Primary Control Center

According to the North American Electric Reliability Coordinator (NERC) standard related to loss of control center functionality (EOP-008-2), Southwestern – as a registered Transmission Operator and Balancing Authority – is required to have an Operating Plan: “describing the manner in which [Southwestern] continues to meet its functional obligations with regard to the reliable operations of the BES [Bulk Electric System] in the event that its primary control center functionality is lost.”  

A big part of Southwestern’s strategy, says Keeth Works, Vice President of Operations, is having a secondary control center ready to go in case something happens to the primary.  

“We used to have the secondary at a Corps of Engineers Facility, but with the requirement that the secondary control center has to be up and running within two hours of losing the primary, we were right at the edge of the time limit of arriving at that site, so we started thinking of new ways to meet the requirement.”  

Beginning in 2015, Southwestern started acquiring land and making plans to build a building at its Nixa Substation site. At first, says Works, the plan was to use the Nixa site as the secondary control center.  

“But then we started thinking about why we were building a FEMA rated structure that could withstand F5 tornados and that featured modernized security and the latest and greatest in information technology when we would only use it for drills,” he says. “It makes much more sense to use the new building as your primary and the existing one as your secondary.”  

Left – The physical security at the Nixa Control Center is considerable.
Right – Doug Johnson discusses communications and protection of
Southwestern’s OTS with the DOE visitors.

It took approximately three years for the new building to be built, equipped, and tested before the transition could take place. On Tuesday, January 22, 2019, controls were transferred, and Southwestern’s schedulers, dispatchers, and other essential personnel started work in their new Nixa home office.  

Administrator Mike Wech says he thinks his visitors from DOE enjoyed their tour of the facilities. “They have industry knowledge, so they’ve probably seen this kind of stuff before, but I am proud of all the work that went into getting this primary control center up and running, and I think they appreciated the effort.” Wech adds that, during their visit and again upon their return to DOE Headquarters, the DOE visitors expressed their thanks for the hospitality of Wech and the rest of the Southwestern staff involved in the visit.