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MISO: Building The Perfect Beast

Seams, holes, and historic precedent challenge the Midwest ISO's evolution.
Fortnightly Magazine - August 2004

one Canadian province, and three NERC control areas (East Central Area Reliability Coordination Agreement [ECAR], Mid-Continent Area Power Pool [MAPP], and Mid-America Interconnected Network [MAIN]). Its membership includes utilities of all types, serving populations as diverse as Detroit and the Dakotas. And MISO's territory is full of holes, including two gaping craters created by the recent defections of Commonwealth Edison and American Electric Power to the PJM system.

Given MISO's complexity, some stakeholders are concerned about whether the systems and human resources needed to manage this system are obtainable.

"There's a physical limitation to how much information you can process at one point," says Joseph Welch, president and CEO of International Transmission Co. in Novi, Mich. "It's hard to believe MISO will have enough people with the technical and geographic expertise to handle a crisis."

Such issues were identified as a culprit in the Aug. 14 blackout. Various problems, involving software glitches, inadequate systems, and human error prevented MISO from making decisions that might have prevented the blackout from spreading.

"MISO received indications of breaker trips in [First Energy] that registered in MISO's alarms; however, the alarms were missed," states the U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force in its final report. 1 Gathering further information required operators to manually cross-reference alarm codes, so the importance of the alarms was not fully understood until it was too late. "MISO operators did not have the capability to click on the on-screen alarm indicator to display the underlying information," the report states.

Finding the people that MISO needs is proving difficult. The RTO began 2004 with hopes to hire about 120 people, expanding its staff by one-third. Halfway through the year, MISO's employment Web site still listed nearly 100 open positions. "There could potentially be a shortage of talent and skill sets," said Mark Griffin, MISO executive director and chief of staff, in an interview in the February 2004 . 2 "We've aggressively stepped up to our mandate around reliability, and that puts a tremendous burden on our staff. There is a challenge in finding people with some skills and understanding of local systems and the way they work in geographic regions."

Additionally, MISO faces a challenge in training all those new people and integrating them into the operation. "That is an immense undertaking, and it would amaze me if they can pull it off by day one [of the new market's operation]," Welch says. "Couple that with the fact that MISO is the security coordinator and is running the system reliability, and it's too much to ask."

Torgerson, however, disagrees, asserting that MISO is creating a more reliable network. "We're looking at things that have never been analyzed before," he says. "We do contingency analyses to pick up impacts that you wouldn't see if you were only looking at a particular control area." Additionally, he explains that a larger RTO, with central dispatch responsibilities, provides access to a larger number of generators to serve power loads.

"Granted, it requires complex computer models and people who understand the entire system," he says. "It's not easy,