MANY PLAYERS IN THE ELECTRIC INDUSTRY HAVE COME to believe that energy-only prices will soon replace the hundred-year tradition of pricing both energy and capacity.
This idea, sometimes...
April 1, 2000
Dividing the Eastern and Western grids into smaller, more manageable chunks would help marketers do business.
At a recent EPRI seminar on reliability, everyone, from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to the North American Electric Reliability Council, agreed that reliability under "deregulation" is a problem - a big problem, in fact.
The evidence in the form of many blackouts and power failures during the past several years is inescapable; even those who originally dismissed the reliability problem now acknowledge it. The seminar's formal conclusions summed up the consensus quite well: "North America is closer to the edge, in term of the frequency and duration of severe power outages, than at any time in the last 35 years." Interestingly, the U.S. Department of Energy recently echoed the same sentiment. Those few of us who have been swimming upstream warning of this for the last four years or more may be permitted a brief moment of satisfaction.
That's the good news. The bad news is that most people have no idea as to effective solutions. Most continue to push for federal reliability legislation, as proposed by various organizations. That is unfortunate. At best, such legislation will do absolutely nothing. The provisions of the proposed legislation would not have prevented any of the recent power failures. Not one. At worst, this legislation could do a lot of harm.
But perhaps we're a quarter of the way to the solution. The decline in reliability as a result of deregulation has four components:
1. a lack of recognition that there's a problem;
2. a profound lack of understanding of the physics of electric power transmission;
3. a vast increase in the number of players; and
4. the increasingly complicated rules and procedures.
We seem to have overcome the first part. Now we must address the others.
THE LACK OF UNDERSTANDING how transmission works can best be addressed by education. But convincing people that they (or their subordinates) really don't know what they need to know is a distinct challenge.
To put it politely, the problem is hubris. From my experience in teaching courses on the basics of electric power transmission, I've discovered an amazing level of ignorance, and an unwillingness to admit it. It isn't that the people in question are stupid - on the contrary, most are very intelligent. It's just that they do not understand the most fundamental principles of electric power systems. Until important people are willing to acknowledge the need for education, we cannot begin to move forward.
THE NUMBER OF PLAYERS using the bulk power transmission system has grown exponentially, and will continue to do so as retail access takes off. This growth has led to more rules and procedures that are increasingly complex. In fact, the FERC's approach to deregulation is to promulgate more and more rules, and NERC's response has been to multiply procedures.
THIS INCREASING COMPLEXITY itself is the single most important detriment to reliability. The problem is that the Eastern and Western Interconnections (or "grids") are far too large and complex to manage reliably in