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US - Canada blackout report

Discussion in 'Electrical Engineering' started by Richard, Nov 20, 2003.

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  1. Richard

    Richard Guest

  2. I am an electrical the power industry. I read the entire
    report last night and found it very interesting. I am dissappointed (but
    not surprised) that they did not include any discussion on how the
    deregulation of the power industry has helped create the situation that led
    to the blackout. Of course I never expected FERC to point a finger at

    Charles Perry P.E.
  3. anon

    anon Guest

    I have not read the complete report yet.
    So far I have not seen any comments about the level of staffing.
    Staffing has changed substantially due in part to de regulation.

    former electrical operator
  4. Don Kelly

    Don Kelly Guest

    Actually, a well run large grid will be more economical and also more
    reliable than a bunch of small ones. In the case of smaller, isolated
    systems, the impact would be greater, in the form of a thousand small cuts
    which would bleed the economy even more. Note: "well run" does not mean
    maximising profits. It does mean that the people at the top should
    understand power systems and not have "business "experience that considers
    utilities, grocery stores, department stores, etc as interchangable.
    Deregulation, has, in many places, put short term profits ahead of long term
    planning for reliability and adequacy of supply.
  5. John Gilmer

    John Gilmer Guest


    MOST of the time, the large grid (aside from "wheeling" excess power to
    where is it needed from where it is not) increases reliability. This is
    expecially true for customers at the "edge" of a service area.

    This effect is so important that utilities at the "edge" of the major grids
    often establish DC links to the adjacent grid.
    Well, the "east coast" (actually only a part of it) went down because the
    local utilities were unable to maintain operations when the grid had
    problems. Each utility has a obligation to its customers to maintain the
    ability (within its own resources) to determine if a major problem with the
    "grid" exists and temporarily and without damage to its backbone
    distribution system and power plants shed or adjust load and production as

    IOW: The systems in NY and Canader should have been able to get back on
    line for most of its customers within minutes.

    NYC, for example, was not even able to restore power to its traffic signals.
    It's irresponsible to blame this failure on a utility in the midwest.
  6. tom smith

    tom smith Guest

    You continue to use terms like "well run" and "people should understand".
    They aren't and they don't. Good system design takes the fool into account.

    You can't claim "it was a great design except the user screwed it up" -- It
    was a bad design.

    The root cause was not just a failed alarm, it was a system design that let
    a failed alarm create
    a massive catastrophic failure that in many cases took over a week to bring
    back up.

    This is an engineering group is it not? Let's face the facts: BAD DESIGN!!


    I agree that the power traders stole money from us after deregulation. They
    squeezed money
    from a system that we all paid for and failed to invest in it. Now they
    want to raise our rates to
    fix it.
  7. daestrom

    daestrom Guest

    This is not that simple. The CNY area *had* sufficient local power
    available to sustain itself. In fact, some portions of CNY didn't even go
    dark. With some of the 'islands' that resulted, we were able to bring
    several units on-line without having to wait for power from outside our
    This is not true. To think that a plant that is tripped off-line can be
    restored in minutes shows a lack of understanding of plant operations. Many
    plants are not even capable of doing a 'black' startup. The cost of such a
    capability is high, and the need for it is *very* rare. Most plants are
    still recovering from the trip for some time, they can't even begin to think
    about coming back on line 'within minutes', they are still stabilizing from
    the trip.
    A real issue is that plant trips occurred with a transient that did not
    isolate regions. Seems like the line settings should have isolated regions
    *before* plants begin to trip. So a severe transient would isolate regions,
    not cause a wide-spread generation trip. But the 'isolation zones' have to
    be large enough to include a number of base-load *and* regulating units so
    that each region can reasonably survive such an 'isolation event'.

    There is obviously a tradeoff here. A larger region is more likely to
    survive isolation provided it encompasses enough regulating units, spinning
    reserves, MVAR capacity and base load. The region has to be able to survive
    when some plants (including regulating) are down for maintenance. Today,
    the utility saves the ratepayer money by 'borrowing' the services of
    regulating and base load from nearby regions through interties. If not for
    this ability to rely on neighboring regions for such services, each region
    would have to overbuild equipment that would be underutilized except for the
    'once every 30 years transient isolation event'.

    But wait, we've just 'designed' a system remarkably similar to today's.
    Moral is, if you want more reliability than we have, build more, pay more.
    Granted, the 8/14 blackout is still 'fresh' in everyone's mind, but is it
    *really* a warning of an unreliable system, signaling a future of frequent
    A second issue is ratepayers paying for equipment upgrades so that more
    power can be carried *through* their region. Should ratepayers in rural NY
    pay to upgrade equipment such that customers in NYC can buy cheap power from
    the Midwest? The large amount of power flow *through* a region is a burden
    on the equipment, while the local users see little benefit.

    Restructuring 'carrying charges' so that the NYC consumer pays a more
    realistic fee for the use of the equipment used to transmit the power from
    the Midwest through the rural NY utility seems in order. Then the rural
    utility can justify equipment upgrades without burdening the local ratepayer
    that receives little from such an upgrade. Rural NY is facing rate
    increases so that NYC and mid-west can buy/sell more power from each other.
    Louisiana is in a similar situation between Texas and Florida. They are
    being asked to upgrade their east-west transmission capabilities at the
    expense of LA ratepayers, so Texas and Florida can trade more power.

    Thirdly, some consider our limited transmission capability as our only way
    to keep Midwest coal plants from making more acid rain for NY and east. If
    older OH coal generation units (exempt from anti-pollution upgrades) are
    given more access to distant markets, they may operate full time,
    exacerbating the acid rain problems in NY and New England.

  8. Don Kelly

    Don Kelly Guest

    If you had read my comments -I am not claiming the system was well run
    although parts of it were. . Good system design is foolproof but not
    damfoolproof, particularly where the top management falls into the latter
    category and good design is compromised because decisions are made by those
    whose only concern is the immediate bottom line and engineers are just hired
    help who "don't see the big picture".
  9. John Gilmer

    John Gilmer Guest

    You have the advantage over me in that I have never participated in day to
    day power plant management.

    I do, nontheless, understand that a "Panic Button" shut down (with complete
    shutdown, steam dumping, turbines coasting to a stop, etc,) might well
    require inspections and a SLOW re-start.

    It is my understanding that the FEDs require that nuke plants have enough
    diesel generator capacity to do a "black" startup. (Even if it isn't a
    formal requirement, safety requirements providing for operation of safety
    related sysems (in a nuke plant, that covers a lot of territory).
    Well, nothing is "free." But that's not the same a throwing money at the
    problem as was proposed in the weeks following the blackout.

    Again, you have the advantage but it seems to me that you are talking about
    a variation of the "Interstate Highway Problem" whereby the interstates
    become the main rural routes and all the stores and new construction happens
    within a few miles of interstate exits.

    A rural utility has the option of builing lines to its neighbors on its own
    or just using a line constructed (say) to bring power from Niagra Falls to
    NYC. Maybe things are different in NYS, but in Virginia rural folks pay a
    fraction of the rates that suburban or urban folks pay.

    Well, I would be interesting a hearing about specific examples.
    Well, don't the owners of transmission lines get paid for carrying power?
    Interesting issue.

    I recall reading that there is a question as to whether "improvements" to
    existing coal fired plants should require that the entire plant meet
    "modern" anti-polution standards.

    Maybe the best solution is a "polution" tax. But the utilities don't like
    the tax and the "enviromental wackos" do like that idea of "approved"
  10. Don Kelly

    Don Kelly Guest

  11. anon

    anon Guest

    One of the major issues an operator always faces is 100 percent hindsight in
    a quiet back office a week, a month or a year later.

    "operators who did not think" ? The alarm system had failed! What actual
    issues/events/communications were occurring in the control room
    at the time of the alarm system failure?

    From Computerworld (November 24) - as taken from the task force report

    "... a software program that gives operators visual and audible indications
    of events occurring on their portion of the grid, began to malfunction.
    As a result, ' key personnel may not have been aware of the need to take
    preventive measures ..."

    The statement below indicates the system board that was promised in planning
    the control room design was deleted to save $'s.
    Definitely a typical management shortcoming taking away the operators tools.

    'this may have been, in part, the result of a failure to use modern dynamic
    mapping and data sharing systems'

    The operators were always convenient targets.

    Re failure to trim trees - are there any forestry personnel who are utility
    staff (not contractors) left at the utilities?

    former Electrical Operator
  12. daestrom

    daestrom Guest

    Exactly. Returning a unit to service can take quite some time. Tripping
    the boiler off and blowing the safety's for several minutes is pretty
    severe. Getting the turbine back is also a slow process. Massive machinery
    requires one to adhere to heat-up /cool-down limitations to avoid damage.
    And of course, you have to have a 'grid' to synch back on to unless you are
    a regulating unit.
    Very WRONG!! The NRC requires taht nuke plants have emergency generators to
    put the plant in a safe condition and maintain it in that safe condition.
    That is to say, the diesels are used to provide power necessary for cooling
    and monitoring the reactor, and ensuring the safety of the reactor. This is
    a far cry from that needed to perform a startup.
    The question is one of simply "Who pays for the transmission line, vs. who
    benefits from its construction?" If the rural community 'pays' but recieves
    no benefit, while the city 'benefits' but does not pay, then we have a
    problem. With the interstates, everyone 'paid' while not everyone benefited
    equally. But imagine if only the rural community paid and the urban folks
    did not?

    When crossing territories and state lines, this *could* be the result.
    Users in FL getting the benefit of larger transmission across LA from TX
    (mandated by congress), yet only the LA ratepayers footing the bill?
    Very true. The lawyers/lawmakers get to argue about just what constitutes
    an 'improvement'. Replace an old worn out motor/pump for the condensate
    system with a newer one. Substantially the same overall, but made with
    newer materials, lower maintenance shaft-seals, higher-quality,
    longer-lasting bearings. Lowers maintenance costs, replaces an obsolete
    component, but is it an 'improvement' that warrants upgrading the pollution
    equipment? Probably not, at least the owners think so.

    But replace the turbine rotor with a new one. Old rotors *do* wear out, and
    erode. New one made from better materials, less bypass losses, more MWe
    output. Is *this* an improvement? Owners claim 'like component
    replacement', but opponents argue 'improved plant output'.
    As with many things, compromise will probably rule.

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