Science, Not Propaganda

Our recent experiences with the West Virginians for Reliability front guys, reminded me of a post I did last July titled “The System Is Not Outdated, Just Misused”.  The post contains a link to an article by Eric Lerner in the journal The Industrial Physicist that explains the reasons why there are problems with today’s transmission grid.

Lerner presents the science, not the propaganda.  What does Lerner say?  He says that deregulation engineered by big energy traders has caused current grid problems, not old lines or inadequate capacity.  We have plenty of transmission capacity to meet our electrical needs.  We don’t have capacity for energy traders who are bent on using our grid to generate new sources of profit.

Here is a link to the article. See for yourself.

So if the power companies want West Virginia land owners like the Ives to “get over it,” is this because there is some great national interest in grid reliability?

Or is it really about AEP’s new plans for a national transmission company that gets FERC subsidies and guaranteed profits?  Last year, on an investor conference call, AEP CEO Mike Morris documented the losses AEP took as demand for electricity fell.  Except for one bright spot –

So Barbarados [ph] commercial office people deserve a great deal of credit. The Energy Trading Group has been conservative but successful.

It really looks like Mr. Morris supports the national interest (sarcasm alert).  The AEP Energy Trading Group, the most profitable division of AEP in 2009, is based in Barbados so it doesn’t have to pay US taxes.

So West Virginia land owners can rest assured that they are giving up their land for a “higher interest”, but that isn’t the national interest.  The ones benefiting from TrAIL and PATH are the tax dodging power companies like AEP.

Summary of Independent Expert Testimony

No state or federal agency has yet done an independent analysis of PJM Interconnection’s claims about the need for the PATH power line.  Now we have such an analysis in the form of written testimony filed in the VA SCC case by Robert Fagan, Hyde Merrill and George Loehr, leading national experts on transmission operation and grid reliability.

Richard Klein, a consultant to community groups based in Maryland, has just written an excellent summary of their testimony with a point by point comparison to the claims made by PJM/AEP/Allegheny in their public statements and PSC applications.

If you want to get up to speed quickly on what independent experts say about PATH, Klein’s summary will do it for you.  Here is a link to Klein’s summary.

Klein also shows clearly how the current state PSC processes do not do a very good job of assessing the value or feasibility of projects like PATH.  He calls for a much more comprehensive energy planning process at the state level to protect citizens and rate payers from corporate boondoggles and federal interference.

If you want to educate your local legislators, county commissioners and newspapers about the PATH situation, download Klein’s report and print copies for them.  All of us who are trying to stop PATH need to get this information in front of anyone who will read it.

I have included a link to Klein’s report in the right hand column under Educate Yourself About the Facts so you can find it quickly in the future.

Power Companies Take Another Step Backward

Yesterday was the deadline set by the WV PSC for all pleadings concerning the dismissal or delay of the PATH case.  Two pleadings stand out.

AEP/Allegheny “revised” their “proposal” once again.  Here is a link to their “revision.” The PSC’s “untenable morass” comment in its order last week appears to have had an impact on the power companies.  They have dropped their “conditions” and stated they no longer want to bifurcate the case schedule.  They couldn’t just drop it completely, though, because they included a reference to it in a footnote.

The power companies also accepted the PSC staff’s recommendation to extend the case deadline by 247 days, not the 217 days they initially requested.  The PSC staff, although willing to accept delay, is still insisting on dismissal as the best solution to the problem that the power companies have created in Maryland.

The other excellent pleading that you should read was filed by the Sierra Club/WV Highlands Conservancy.  Here is the link to the memorandum filed by the SC/WVHC. The memorandum makes a clear and detailed argument that the power companies created the current mess by failing to answer the MD PSC’s questions promptly and clearly and should not be allowed to dictate the terms of a solution.

SC/WVHC also point out that their expert testimony in the VA SCC case that is now public utterly destroys claims by PJM/AEP/Allegheny that PATH is needed.  Delaying the WV case, when we have no idea what the power companies plan to do in Maryland, makes no sense.  Delay only gives PJM and the power companies time to “adjust” their “planning” to address the killer evidence presented by independent engineers Robert Fagan, Hyde Merrill and George Loehr.

SC/WVHC say in their memorandum that we should start all over with a revised application in all three states.  SC/WVHC state that power company claims that they will file something somewhere by December 31 is just more smoke and mirrors and does nothing to resolve any of the problems created by the power companies in Maryland.

The best solution would be to dismiss applications in WV and VA and let the power companies re-apply when they have told us what they will do in MD.

Engineer Hyde Merrill Takes Apart PJM’s Black Box: Not Pretty

Expert testimony on PATH by electrical grid engineer Hyde Merrill has just been filed with the East Virginia State Corporation Commission.  Here is a link to Mr. Merrill’s testimony.

If you are an intervenor in the WV PSC PATH case, you need to read Merrill’s testimony carefully.  You have been reading for the last year on The Power Line that PATH is not needed.  Now, Merrill’s testimony tells us why.

November 17 is the deadline for all intervenors to file their written direct testimony in the WV PSC case.  If you do not take advantage of Mr. Merrill’s facts in your own testimony, you will have missed a major opportunity to stop PATH in WV.

Merrill’s testimony will also be filed in the WV case by Nov. 17, but the early filing in East Virginia gives WV intervenors access to his arguments now.

Here is some of what Mr. Merrill reveals about PJM’s black box:

  • PJM has recently revised its estimates of projected power flows in its CETO models downward, but has not adjusted its justification for PATH.  These lower power flows, if included in the PATH plan, would eliminate several of the NERC violations PJM is claiming.
  • Even PJM’s revised CETO values are too high, compared with similar projections used in New York and New England.  Merrill points to these higher than industry standard power flow estimates as the main way that PJM has rigged its argument for PATH.  Correct CETO values used in PJM modeling would completely eliminate all NERC violations claimed by PJM engineers in the PATH application.
  • PJM applies NERC standards incorrectly in its identification of NERC violations.
  • By including only demand management actions that have cleared PJM markets, PJM has completely inaccurate power demand estimates for time periods more than three years in the future.  PJM essentially eliminates the reductions demand management after 2012, resulting in much higher power flow estimates that would be expected.
  • PJM changed its assessment of voltage instability between 2008 and 2009 which resulted in identification of voltage drops appearing for the first time in the PATH argument.  Merrill could find no explanation of why this change was made in PJM’s testimony and believes that the changes may have been the result of calculation errors.
  • Merrill shows clearly how PJM has rigged how it counts or excludes new east coast power generators to suit its conclusion that PATH is needed.  Merrill shows how PJM undercounts new generators that would solve east coast power shortages, but overcounts generators to show how existing circuits are overloaded.
  • Investment of a few hundred million dollars in reactive power capacitors and transformers, much of which PJM is already planning to do even if PATH were built, would solve most of PJM’s NERC violations and all of its voltage instability problems.

Intervenors are the only way that citizens of West Virginia can really participate in the PSC decision process.  We intervenors have an obligation to make the best case we can against PATH.  Hyde Merrill gives us that opportunity.

Now it’s up to us to use what he has provided.

Experts in VA Case Say PATH Will Make Grid Less Reliable

Experts in the East Virginia PATH case before the State Corporation Commission have filed testimony providing a detailed description of why PJM Interconnection’s reasoning about PATH is wrong.

Engineer George Loehr is one of the leading grid reliability experts in the US.  In his testimony, Loehr states that PATH is more about profit for AEP/Allegheny than reliability.

PATH would effectively provide a subsidy to existing and future western [PJM] generators – access to the lucrative eastern load centers without cost to themselves. Conversely, the western subsidies would place eastern generators at a significant disadvantage.

Ken Ward has more information about the testimony on Coal Tattoo, plus links to the testimony of Loehr, engineer Hyde Merrill and engineer/economist Robert Fagan.

Here is Mr. Merrill’s conclusion about PATH:

PJM’s planning studies do not justify the PATH line. The vast majority of alleged reliability issues that are presented in support of the PATH line are not based on any modeling or contingency analyses as NERC requires. None of the alleged violations is based on reasonable assumptions regarding the need for power transfer from western to eastern PJM — i.e. reasonable Capacity Emergency Transfer Objective (“CETO”) values. And even if the alleged violations were based on credible analysis — which they are not — none of them creates a present need to build the proposed PATH line. Rejecting PATH now will allow time to develop far better alternatives for the evolution of the power system within PJM’s boundaries.

In contrast, approving this line will lead to increasing reliance by the East Coast on remote coal-fired power plants with continuing or increasing transmission congestion, transmission losses, and a greater risk of cascading blackouts.

Read this remarkable testimony if you want to know in detail why AEP, Allegheny and PJM are wrong about their claimed need for PATH.

An Expert Takes Apart PJM’s Black Box

In 2008, consulting engineer Hyde Merrill provided testimony to the East VA State Corporation Commission concerning Allegheny Energy/PJM’s TrAIL project that was planned for PA, WV and VA.  Mr. Merrill was testifying as an expert on behalf of the Piedmont Environmental Council, a strong opponent of the line.

I am providing a link to this testimony here, in part 1 and part 2, for three reasons:

  1. Mr. Merrill completely refutes all the arguments presented by Allegheny Energy and Dominion Virginia Power and PJM in support of the proposed power line.
  2. Mr. Merrill’s testimony will give PATH intervenors in the WV PSC case a good look at one expert’s testimony in the case.
  3. While Mr. Merrill’s testimony is somewhat technical, with a little patience, the general reader can begin to understand why both PATH and TrAIL are not needed, even using PJM Interconnection’s own data and now refuted predictions of power demand.

This testimony was about the impact of the TrAIL line specifically on East VA, but almost all the data and arguments are a part of the PATH case as well.

George Loehr Congressional Testimony

Last summer, George Loehr, an electrical engineer with 45 years experience managing grid operations in New York and the eastern US, testified before the Senate Energy Committee.

That testimony is a clear, complete and succinct statement of why PATH is not a cure for grid reliability problems.  In fact, as Mr. Loehr demonstrates, PATH will create many new reliability problems.

The passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct) was heralded as a major step forward in improving the grid and reducing the likelihood of large blackouts. One drawback, however, is its almost exclusive focus on transmission. It does not address generating capacity sited close to the load centers, or demand side management programs. These strategies are often preferable to transmission as a means of improving overall system reliability. They have the added benefit of adding to the system’s installed reserve margin. My own experience over the years has indicated that a certain minimum amount of capacity – in the neighborhood of 80% of the peak demand – must be located within a load center to provide voltage/reactive power support, black start capability, network security, etc.

If we wish to address electric power energy issues, we must address them in a more comprehensive manner. At present, the EPAct, and policies adopted thereunder, encourages the construction of new transmission not needed for reliability. It subsidizes remote generators, discriminates against local and distributed generation and demand side resources, forces many customers to pay for someone else’s benefits, increases the likelihood of blackouts, and makes our grids more vulnerable to terrorist attack.

Every single point that Mr. Loehr makes in these introductory paragraphs illustrates why PATH will fail to do what PJM Interconnection and the power companies claim.

Here is a link to Mr. Loehr’s complete testimony. It is a complete education on how to fix our electrical grid from one of the leading experts in North America.  (The original link just to Loehr’s testimony no longer works.  The current link is to the entire transcript of the Senate hearing.  Mr. Loehr’s testimony begins on page 86.)

“The system is not outdated, it is just misused,”

Thank you, Blonde Moment (WVaBlue), for leading me to this excellent article.  This story, What’s wrong with the electric grid? by Eric Lerner from the The Industrial Physicist explains clearly how deregulated energy trading is causing stresses on the national energy grid not outdated or under-capacity equipment.

National energy trading that exploded after the late 1990s directly conflicts with the basic physics of operating huge AC electricity networks.  Not only has deregulation dramatically destabilized the national grid, but electricity prices have risen, contrary to the promises of the deregulators.

The article demonstrates, through a discussion of the scientific principles of electrical transmission, that building a bigger, more interconnected grid is a recipe for more blackouts.

Rest assured, PATH, TrAIL and MAPP will not increase reliability and stability.  They are only designed to allow the big energy traders like Goldman Sachs and Citibank, as well as the trading subsidiaries of AEP and Allegheny Energy, to generate huge energy trading profits while we pay for the power lines.

Dr. Megavar Explains It All

George Loehr is an electrical engineer with 45 years of experience in the transmission industry.  He was also an extremely effective expert witness in the PA PUC case that got most of the TrAIL line stopped in PA.

I Googled Mr. Loehr this morning, and the first item that turned up was this very enlightening and funny “interview” Mr. Loehr has with a fictional character, Dr. Megavar. VAR is an electrical engineering term for reactive power that is not able to power anything, but is necessary to maintain voltage stability in the transmission system.

The “interview” is worth a read, because Mr. Loehr does an excellent job of explaining why a bigger transmission system with bigger power lines is actually less stable and reliable than smaller more independent networks.  Dr. Megavar also provides a number practical solutions to the problems the power companies are complaining about in the PATH PSC application.

Transmission Lies

I posted this article back in November, but it is very useful to look at it again.  Carol Overland is a former staff attorney from a state public service commission.  She knows what she is talking about.

Click on this link, and read her explanation of the lies that are told by power companies about the need for power lines.  Then compare Ms. Overland’s list to what we are hearing from AEP and Allegheny Energy about PATH and TrAIL.  This article is the best primer I know of that states our case clearly and simply from an expert’s point of view.

An Insider’s View of Power Lines

Carol Overland is an attorney who works within the utility regulatory system.  She has some excellent insights into why we don’t really need more high voltage transmission lines, as well as the games that power companies play to try to convince us that we do.

Note below that Ms. Overland states that “claims that we ‘need’ transmission are end-stage conclusions of a many-step planning process that we as a society have not yet consciously begun.”  As a society, we have not begun this process, but FERC, PJM and the power companies have been planning PATH for almost a decade now, with little or no informed public input.  We are late in the PATH process, but we must make ourselves and our well-documented position known.  We need to educate ourselves and insist that government officials take our arguments seriously.

Here is a link to her excellent article.

Here is a sample –

Transmission doesn’t produce electricity. It is passive infrastructure that just sits there, conducting energy from one place to another. At its worst, though, it’s an enabler of dysfunctional energy planning and profit-driven projects that are against the public interest. Claims that we “need” transmission are end-stage conclusions of a many-step planning process that we as a society have not yet consciously begun.

“Need” is a term of art, and the crucial task for energy planners is to define the need. We need energy when we flick the switch, and when we do, that’s a utility’s need for service of local electrical load. We also need renewable generation, and we have an equally compelling need to reduce the CO2 emissions, pollutants, and toxic waste of electrical generation (a need not readily recognized in energy planning). Energy planners plan for peak “flick of the switch” need, those few very hot summer days or very cold winter nights. How much “flick of the switch” energy do we need? It depends.

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The Future of the Grid, from The Oil Drum

The Oil Drum is a blog about energy issues.  Here is an article recently posted there that gives a good summary of how the current electrical grid developed.

There are a number of excellent charts and tables in the article.  Important facts include:

  • West Virginia is the leading electricity exporting state in the US based on 2006 figures.
  • West Virginia produces 162% more electricity than it uses.  In other words, West Virginia uses less than 40% of the electricity it produces.  West Virginia is second only to Wyoming in this category.
  • The massive investment needed to build new transmission lines will be very expensive at a time when long term financing is very scarce.

The article points to deregulation and the massive interstate sale of electricity as the main cause of our current grid problems.  Here is an excerpt from the article outlining the impacts of deregulation on our current grid:

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Article Identifies Source of Grid Problems – Deregulation

The Sugarloaf Conservancy site has a link to an excellent article from a journal called The Industrial Physicist from 2003.  Here is a link to the article.  The author states that overloading sections of the interstate grid only began with the dismantling of the regulated electricity system and the creation of nationwide trading of electricity on a massive scale.  

The hysteria about brownouts and blackouts, shown once again in today’s Washington Post, is being used repeatedly to justify the construction of new mega power lines.  The “solution” proposed always revolves around bringing power from far away to cities where demand is increasing rapidly.  Note in the Post piece that the authors never mention coal-generated power and that they cite the now outdated figures on projected demand for the East Coast.  The Industrial Physicist article clearly shows how interstate transmission itself is the problem.

Thank you Sugarloaf Conservancy for posting this excellent article.