Important Update on the Reliability Issue

Maryland Energy Report has just posted important information from a report published by the Congressional Research Service earlier this year.  The report, written by Stan Kaplan, indicates that there is very little solid data on grid reliability and experts don’t even really have a clear definition of what constitutes reliability of our electrical grid.

Here is a link to Maryland Energy Report’s new post, including a link to the full CRS report.

In light of this new information on reliability, I have prepared a simple statement on PATH and the reliability issue that you can use to prepare your testimony at the PSC public hearings.  Here is a link to another excellent post on Maryland Energy Report about how the AEP/Allegheny are using the reliability argument as an excuse to get us to build them their new power line.

Remember, the power companies are claiming that PATH will solve what they call reliability problems.  That is what the PSC wants to hear from you about.  Here is some help.

PATH and PJM’s “reliability” claims:

  1. PJM claims that we need PATH because of what they define as reliability problems.  Those “problems” consist of 30 violations of the North American Electrical Reliability Council (NERC)’s standards on some circuits in eastern WV and western VA.
  2. PJM manages the transmission grid in its region.  That’s all it does.  If it identifies problems, the only solutions it will propose involve building new power lines.

There are lots of ways to solve reliability problems, including the 30 NERC problems.  All of these ways are better and cheaper than building new power lines.

  1. Build new power generating sources where there is the most demand, don’t ship power from hundreds of miles away.
  2. Rebuild and “reconductor” existing lines using existing rights of way.
  3. Reduce overall demand by managing energy use, by both industrial and residential users with new technologies that allow power companies to reduce use at peak times.

The one thing that we know is that transmission equipment problems do not cause blackouts.  Here is a direct quote from the new Congressional Research Service report:

[T]he 2003 blackout was not caused by a utility having built too few transmission lines, or because power line towers and substations were falling apart. The blackout was apparently due to such factors as malfunctioning if not obsolete computer and monitoring systems, human errors that compounded the equipment failures, mis-calibrated automatic protection systems on power plants, and FirstEnergy’s failure to adequately trim trees.  (p. 31, emphasis added.)

The report’s author also said:

[D]epending on the case, building new transmission lines is not the only or best approach to enhancing power system reliability.  In some instances investments in new monitoring and control technology may be the better solution.  (p. 32)

One last comment on “blackouts.”  Major blackouts are triggered by small events, but they spread rapidly, often in a matter of seconds, because our national power grid is so heavily interconnected.

If PATH is built, WV’s power grid will be very tightly tied in with the east coast.  PATH would significantly increase the likelihood that a local east coast blackout would spread to our state.  Think back to 2003 to the biggest blackout in US history, just north and east of us.  Did our lights even flicker in WV?  No.  If PATH is built, get ready.