Utilities: We're Up To Summer's Challenge
Although U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has been sounding
the alarm all over the country about problems with the nation's
electric reliability because of at least six power outages that
occurred last summer, several utility executives told the secretary
last week at a regional "summit meeting" in Newark, NJ, that they
are ready and waiting for the next summer demand peak.
Despite experiencing outages last summer, New Jersey utilities
GPU Energy and Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) and New
York's Consolidated Edison are ready to handle the load this time
around, utility officials told the DOE secretary.
"We're probably going to be in pretty good shape this summer,"
said E. Ferland, CEO of PSE&G. "We haven't done our job unless
we have maintained a reliable system, which we will do... I don't
think there's any question that we will have a reliable system
According to a DOE report on last summer's outages, PSE&G
had several problems during a heat wave July 5-8, including outages
at several substations and on one of its transmission lines that
cut power to about 12,600 people for several hours.
Ferland said that four out of five proposed power generating
stations (80-90 MW each) will be in service before this summer's
peak in power demand. "If reliability moves away from us in the
wrong way, we really have dropped the ball because there's no
reason in the world for that to take place," said Ferland. "As far
as the reinforcements to the transmission systems [that may be
required] and we stand fully ready to commit capital as required to
build those facilities."
In a statement, he highlighted several other actions taken since
last summer by PSE&G. In addition to the new power generation,
the company has "speeded up investment in key areas of our
distribution" system, upgraded an energy management system to
better monitor energy flows and to improve the integration of
information with the PJM ISO, and along with other utilities has
invested $120 million to provide PJM with the latest computer
software and hardware.
GPU also is on top of the situation, said President Michael J.
Chesser. GPU experienced an outage during the heat wave July 5
related to the malfunction of four transformers that cut power to
100,000 people. Service wasn't completely restored for up to three
days. Chesser told Richardson that in the short-term "it looks to
me that GPU is as well or better positioned to handle distribution
reliability issues this summer than it ever has been. It has
stepped up investments strategically, and it also worked with the
[state regulatory] commission to make sure those investments are
being targeted where they'll produce the greatest return."
ConEdison joined the club, too. An official said the utility has
worked hard to eliminate the problems that caused 68,000 of its
customers to lose power July 6 in northern Manhattan. "We have
invested an incremental figure of $100 million in our T&D
system, mostly in distribution to ensure that we will be ready for
this coming summer." He said ConEd does not believe it's
appropriate to invest in a major new transmission line at this
In a public statement following the summit meeting, ConEdison
said it will spend an additional $315 million on a comprehensive
five-year program to improve its electrical distribution system
throughout its service area of New York City and Westchester
"Perhaps we've been a little too worried about this area,"
Richardson responded. But he added that some work still needs to be
Richardson announced six short-term actions DOE "designed to
keep the lights on this summer." He announced the actions at
regional summits in Hartford, CT, Newark, New Orleans and
Sacramento, last week to federal, state and local government
officials, regulators, consumers and the utilities.
He said the DOE would do the following:
Work with other agencies to identify opportunities to reduce
electric consumption at federal water projects during times of peak
Urge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state
utilities commissions to solicit and approve tariffs that will help
reduce electricity demand during peak periods. For instance, large
industrial consumers could find it to their advantage to sell power
back to their utility if it would be profitable;
Explore opportunities for the use of existing backup generators
during power supply emergencies to reduce the strain on electric
systems and help avoid blackouts;
Conduct an emergency exercise with state and local governments
to help prepare for potential summer power supply emergencies;
Work closely with the utility industry to gain up-to-date
relevant information about potential grid-related problems as
quickly as possible;
And prepare public service announcements to provide tips to help
consumers reduce electricity use and lower their bills.