TEXAS: LIGHTS ALMOST WENT OUT; FLORIDA: LIGHTS WENT OUT
When a drop in Texas wind energy facilities’ production on February 26 forced The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s grid operator, to shuffle energy supplies around, the Operations Center sent out an email: "This situation means that there is a heightened risk of ... regular customers being dropped through rotating outages, but that would occur only if further contingencies occur, and only as a last resort to avoid the risk of a complete blackout…"
In other words, “Don’t worry, everything’s fine, we have plans for just such a contingency…”
Earlier the same day, human error at a Florida Power & Light (FPL) switching station took two nuclear facilities, a natural gas facility and two other plants offline, causing a widespread power failure affecting approximately 2.2 million people.
FPL president Armando Olivera: "We don't know, still, why that particular employee took it upon himself to disable both sets of relays…"
The drop in wind was foreseeable, predictable and manageable. Human error, though surely foreseeable, is unpredictable. So here’s the question: Does U.S. leadership going forward choose to build an energy infrastructure consisting of New Energy with manageable intermittency issues? Or nuclear power plants and Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) facilities that become potential disasters in the event of an unpredictable and statistically unlikely but eventually inevitable human error of greater consequence?
In the short term, the next quarter-century, vested economic interests will hold their places in the market. There will be new nuclear plants. A license application moved forward this past week. And it is to the credit of the Florida nuclear facilities that they handled the shutdown safely. Considering the potential consequences of a nuclear accident, it is indeed a good and fortunate thing that everything went well and the nuclear industry insists its plants are now safer than ever.
There will also likely be new coal plants in the next quarter-century, though perhaps not before a system of carbon-capture-and-sequestration (CCS) becomes mandatory for them (see KANSAS REJECTS EMISSIONS) or at least economically necessary as a result of a cap-and-trade system (see CALIFORNIANS FIGHTING CAP-AND-TRADE). Coal is ambitiously developing and testing CCS technology.
It was North Texas wind that finally saved the situation at ERCOT. It took some time to manage the “interruptible” customers, find out first-choice back-up energy supplies were unavailable and shift the North Texas power. Newer levels of wind prediction are available but were not yet in use last week. But there will soon be better ways to know of such wind changes in advance and mediate with other wind energy sources. Solar energy and wave energy will eventually be available to supplement wind, too, and there will soon be ways to store solar- and wind-generated electricity against periodically lagging supplies or suddenly peaking demand.
Leadership is about setting long-term goals, like when JFK pointed to the moon and when President Truman established a cold war doctrine. The upcoming change to new leadership offers an opportunity to imagine an energy infrastructure for the 21st century and create energy policies to move the country in that direction. Right now, there is no perfect choice. Representatives of Old Energy (coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear) will complain that New Energy offers problems like underdevelopment and intermittency. Old Energy’s problems, global climate change and nuclear nightmare, are all too well known.
Tuesday, February 26, the citizens of Texas and Florida and the rest of the country got a chance to compare the quality of those problems. It was not the first look and it will not be the last. Given an overburdened, constrained economy and the nation’s many competing needs, the decision is this: What kind of energy infrastructure does the nation build for its future? Not yet perfected or widely-used New Energies like wind, solar, wave and biofuels? Or widely-used but presently destructive and potentially dangerous Old Energies?
ERCOT is proudly independent. Florida is hanging off the end of the Eastern Interconnect. (click to enlarge)
State almost saw rolling blackouts Tuesday night
February 28, 2008 (AP via Houston Chronicle)
Loss of wind causes Texas power grid emergency
Eileen O'Grady (w/Carol Bishopric), February 28, 2008 (Reuters)
Human error caused widespread power failures in Florida, state’s largest electric utility says
March 1, 2008 (AP via International Herald Tribune)
FPL Group Says Human Error Caused Power Outage
Matthew Dalton, February 29, 2008 (Dow Jones Newswires via CNN Money)
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT); Florida Power & Light (FPL)
A lot of that Eastern Interconnect, including lines into Florida, is heavily congested. (click to enlarge)
- Texas: A dramatic drop in wind energy generation in conjunction with a failure of other energy providers to meet scheduled production and a spike in demand led to a stage two emergency and cutoffs to industrial clients whose power arrangements include lower rates in exchange for “interruptible” service.
- Florida: An engineer disabled two levels of system protection to check a malfunctioning switch. During the check, there was a short, a noise and smoke that was read as fire, setting off a response that, without the two levels of protection, led to a cascading shutdown.
- Texas: The event began at 6:41 PM, the “interruptible” service was restored within 90 minutes and the event was history by 9 PM.
- Florida: The power outage began around 1 PM and was essentially smoothed out by 8 PM.
Interestingly, FPL is one of the biggest boosters of wind energy. (click to enlarge)
- Texas: The West Texas wind fell off and soon North Texas power was shifted to replace it.
- Florida: 26 of FPL’s 435 transmission lines and 38 of 600 substations were affected. The two Turkey Point nuclear reactors and a natural gas unit at Turkey Point, as well as Indiantown and Lauderdale plants shut down protectively. The outage was from Dade County to the Tampa Bay and Jacksonville regions.
- ERCOT is based in the Texas capital of Austin.
- FPL is based in Miami.
- Both ERCOT and FPL have customers who voluntarily sacrifice power at times such Tuesday in exchange for lower overall rates and both lost power on Tuesday, in Texas for approximately 90 minutes and in Florida for approximately 7 hours.
- Because colder temperatures moved into the region, West Texas wind dropped from 170 megawatts to 300 megawatts Tuesday evening. At the same time, demand jumped from 31,200 megawatts to 35, 612 megawatts. Normal emergency response procedures put 1100 megawatts onto the grid within 10 minutes.
- In conjunction with new capacities to anticipate drops in wind, new grid technologies make it possible to link wind farms in a 500 square mile area to eliminate the impact of wind variability.
- FPL officials are investigating the employee. They explain he probably needed to disable one level of protection in order to test and repair a switch. They have no explanation as to why he disabled two levels.
FPL, in fact, owns a lot of wind power in Texas and is building more. (click to enlarge)
- Susan Williams Sloan, spokeswoman, American Wind Energy Association: "When the wind is not blowing somewhere, it's always blowing somewhere else…"
- Armando Olivera, President, FPL: "While the investigation is ongoing, to this point we have no indication that there are any deficiencies with the design of our facilities or with our maintenance procedures…"