MICHIGAN CHOICE APPEAL. Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley filed an appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals of the Michigan PSC's Jan. 14 rehearing order (News Digest, March 15, 1998, p. 18)...
The Devil in the Transmission Data
Untapped T&D measurement data could make the difference on reliability.
Utility executives rely on sound decision making to determine how resources should be allocated, to ensure that systems operate with a maximum efficiency and reliability at the lowest cost. These executives walk the fine line of deciding where money should be spent to minimize the likelihood of an expensive catastrophe while also achieving a targeted level of reliability. These issues include:
- Planning for capital transmission and distribution expenditures, especially breakers, transformers, circuits, and substations;
- Projecting maintenance ex-penses; in particular, de-ciding when equipment should be repaired, upgraded, or switched out with other components; and
- Performing long-term planning for power systems that are typically operating above capacity.
While utility executives must take into account the interaction and dynamics of connected RTOs and ISOs, their decisions generally are dictated by certain underlying beliefs of the current condition of their transmission and distribution (T&D) system components and their failure rates. The problem is that these condition assessments usually are based on historical trends of failure rates and maintenance expenses that are assumed will continue in the future.
Prone to Failure
But if the past is not representative of the future, then on what basis are executive decisions made? A number of factors indicate that operations patterns in the past will not represent the future. First, T&D equipment and apparatus are aging. Much of this equipment was installed in the 1960s and 1970s and is approaching the downside of useful life. This equipment in its latter years requires more monitoring and maintenance and is more prone to failure.
Compounding the problem of aging infrastructure, utilities are cutting back on personnel, including maintenance staff. Early retirement packages are resulting in the loss of senior engineers who participated in the design and purchase of a large portion of the utility's T&D system and may have more intimate knowledge of how to diagnose and solve the less-frequently encountered problems.
Graying executives who remain in the workforce usually have higher pay rates and are prime candidates for downsizing or for incentive packages that encourage them to leave their organizations. The loss of accumulated knowledge means the organization has much less practical experience to rely upon when planning, tackling a crisis, or handling everyday decision making.
In addition, demands of the market have changed the way systems are operating. During peak demand periods and when circuit maintenance is occurring, systems are being operated at historically higher capacities that provide reduced margins for error before problems occur. What can't be overlooked is the fact that congestion in T&D segments is at an all-time high, and the pressure is on to operate more reliably.
The bottom line is that the models and methodologies utility executives use to manage their utility may be built on false premises. By using faulty data, utilities risk:
- Lack of maintenance on deteriorating equipment, or unnecessary maintenance;
- Periods of system instability;
- Inefficiently allocated resources;
- Illogical project-funding priorities; and
- Unnecessary construction.
Fortunately, utility executives have an option available to make better-informed decisions by tapping into the information technology (IT) infrastructure that