July 1, 2001
L.A. Loves a Loophole
There's no getting around it...
In the energy industry, no question defies resolution more than electromagnetic fields (EMF).
The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) reported in late December that electric utilities have contributed close to $80 million for EMF research since the early 1970s. And new efforts are taking shape. Spurred by section 2118 of the Energy Policy Act of 1992, the Department of Energy will administer a new study-RAPID (Research and Public Information Dissemination Program)-a five-year $65-million federal interagency project, for which Congress has already appropriated $8 million. EEI member companies reportedly will contribute $4 million to RAPID for fiscal year 1995, up from $3.2 million for FY `94.
But EMF claims still crop up from odd angles.
Out in the Midwest, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission is taking comments in its electric restructuring docket, which may rival California's Blue Book and New York's Competitive Opportunities dockets in scope and potential for upheaval. Among other ideas, the Wisconsin PSC will likely consider whether to scrap its Advance Plan dockets on electric resource planning, or to mandate a vertical disaggregation of the electric utility industry in that state. You might think you've heard it all on vertical breakups (spinning off generation, transmission-you name it). Think again. Our sources tell us that out in Wisconsin, a physicist has submitted comments in both the electric restructuring (05-EI-114) and Advance Plan 7 (05-EP-7) dockets, claiming that vertical disaggregation in the electric industry could actually increase health dangers posed by EMF.
The physicist is Marjorie Lundquist, who also holds certification from the American Board of Industrial Hygiene. She alleges that emerging federal and state policies aimed at "the destruction of the existing vertical integration of electric utilities" portend a new danger-an erosion of power quality, which she defines as power containing high-frequency components "to a considerable degree." Ms. Lundquist offers no conclusive proof that diminished power quality poses a health hazard, but asks regulators to put power quality on the agenda: "Stop framing the questions about EMF health hazards in terms exclusively of the magnetic fields . . . . Solicit input on the question of whether there is a relation between power quality and . . . EMF associated with power lines."
Being curious, I called up a few people to ask about these allegations.
Peter Jump, a spokesperson at EEI, said he "hadn't heard of that argument before." He also questioned the assumption that more electric competition would degrade power quality: "Competition will encourage utilities to improve power quality. It would be a selling point." Jump adds, "Competition may spur development of new technologies that can control power flows and mitigate EMF dangers."
I heard much the same thing from Leonard Greenberger, editor of EMF News, a bi-weekly newsletter published by EEI.
Frank Young, the former director of the electrical systems division at the Electric Power Research Institute, acknowledges that vertical disaggregation is occurring, but thinks the National Electric Reliability Council will be able to exercise control over "who's running the transmission system." But Young, who now works at Enertech-a consulting, research, and software development firm that manufactures detection instruments