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Monday, August 18, 2003


Blackout 2003: "We need new transmission lines"

Not many new transmission lines have been built in the last several decades in the U.S for several reasons. First, they generate tremendous political and environmental opposition; no one wants one near their home. Second, we've been able to get away with squeezing more out of our existing capacity using new technology (more on that in another post). Third, at a cost of millions per mile, utilities have been reluctant to invest until all rules governing deregulation have been worked out.

I saw a poll on CNN's web site where over 40% of the respondents thought that the blackout was due to utility negligence. Perhaps when the investigation is all done, negligence will have played a part in one or two events within the total crisis, but one failed line in Ohio should not bring down power to 50 million people.

In fact, the utilities have been warning of this type of danger for years and pointing out the need for more transmission capacity. It's just that, until last week, the politicians, the press and the general public haven't been paying attention. Now they are:

"Power grid needs $50B-$100B in work "
"But energy analysts say incentives to help prevent future blackouts are lacking."

Minnesota: "Twin Cities could face problem of insufficient power lines"

Vermont: "Power dynamics "
"The fact that Vermont was largely an island of light when power went out from New York to Ohio and into Canada hasn’t changed Parker’s belief that the major power line upgrade planned by his company between West Rutland and South Burlington is sorely needed. "

California: Power bottleneck to be uncorked"
"$210 million upgrade planned on Central Valley electric lines"
"California is poised to make long-sought improvements to its power lines, with Thursday's massive blackouts on the East Coast serving as a sobering reminder of what can happen when an electric system fails."

(Some Californians must have felt some grim satisfaction in the blackout back East in light of all the derision and grief they caught during their own power crisis a few years ago)

Long Island Sound: "Underwater Energy Cable in N.Y. Unused During Blackout"
"The 24-mile-long cable, running between Connecticut and New York, can supply energy to about 330,000 homes. It is buried beneath the Long Island Sound to avoid mucking up the waterfront or obstructing large ships. And it's ready to use. But when the electric grid that crisscrosses the East Coast faltered this week, the underwater cable remained idle, just as it has for the past 15 months. Despite repeated pleas from New York to flip the switch to lighten the load on the region's overburdened grid, Connecticut has blocked its activation, arguing that the cable is not buried deeply enough under the water in at least seven places to meet state permit requirements. "

[Actually this line was briefly activated after this article was written but only as a result of an federal emergency order]

Connecticut: "Outage shows need for new lines"
"In the span of two days, Northeast Utilities hopes it has accomplished what months of public hearings and volumes of documents could not — convince skeptics of the need for a controversial power line upgrade."

"Wisconsin Energy Supplies: Protecting power a hot topic "
"Utilities say the state's power system could be vulnerable to the same type of massive blackout that hit the Midwest and Northeast but could be protected by upgrading transmission lines that carry power into the state."

Wisconsin: "PSC: Blackout warning sign for state"
"Power system in Wisconsin needs work, officials say"

"Connecticut: Latest Problems Fuel Power System Debate"
"Long-simmering arguments over the nation's power supply system are headed straight for the front burner of public debate in the aftermath of this week's massive blackout. Energy advocates have seized on the outage to push for everything from more power generation and transmission facilities to improved efficiency and conservation."

"In Connecticut, that process has begun with calls for new transmission lines, a flurry of activity involving the Cross Sound Cable power line to Long Island and cautions about the cost and wisdom of certain projects."

Maine: "Power Distribution"
"An even harder problem to solve will be figuring out who should pay for new lines in an interconnected system where some new lines will benefit only a specific area. There is currently a proposal before FERC to "socialize" the cost, meaning everyone pays the same share. That means Maine ratepayers would pay the same increase per kilowatt hour as those in Southern Connecticut where a new power line is being built. But this asks poorer communities with less vibrant economies and lower power costs due to adequate supplies - i.e. Maine - to pay the same share at those who live in economically vibrant and growing communities where electricity prices will drop when the new supply is on line."

New York's congested power grid drew special attention:
New York: State's old power line system among nation's worst"
"New York has one of the most congested power transmission systems in the nation that is more prone to blackouts in a hot summer, according to a recent report by the state electric grid operator.

"Bloomberg: Don't Blame Con Ed"
"With investigators pointing to three failed transmission lines in northern Ohio as a possible cause of the power grid's collapse, the company that delivers the city's electricity managed to avoid blame for another day. With the city slowly coming back to normal after the nation's worst blackout ever, and politicians trying to pinpoint the cause of the collapse, Mayor Michael Bloomberg had muted praise for Consolidated Edison Inc. Saturday. "

"After The Blackout - Going Back To The Experts"
This article points out that Con Ed's system may be old, but it's reliability is the best in the country.

We can attest from our own fiber work on Con Ed's 345 kV lines running into New York City that they are in fact quite old, but also probably the most closely watched, babied and worried-over lines in North America. Con Ed's transmission engineers and field people work hard to make a very old system work very reliably.


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