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The agreement is expected to improve the reliability of Southern and the neighboring companies and reduce the chances of an isolated incident's causing a mass regional power failure.
It is good to know that decisive steps are being taken in this area to prevent power failures on a grand scale.
[From the Wall Street Journal, June 9, 1967]
FPC ASKS CONGRESS FOR REGULATORY CONTROLS OVER HIGH VOLTAGE
(By a Wall Street Journal staff reporter)
WASHINGTON.-The Federal Power Commission, with White House approval, asked Congress for sweeping regulatory controls over extra-high-voltage transmission lines.
An extra-high-voltage line is defined as one transmitting more than 200 kilovolts.
Such lines are essential to the construction of regional power grids linking local utility systems. Concern over their effectiveness has been growing as the result of area-wide blackouts, including Monday's failure affecting 15,000 square miles and some 13 million people in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware, and the much larger Northeast blackout which occurred in November 1965.
The FPC's proposed Electric Power Reliability Act calls for:
-Establishment of regional organizations by electric utilities "to coordinate planning for further interconnection and construction of bulk power supply facilities." Every system in a region would be represented and the FPC would have its own nonvoting representatives on each.
-Standards covering reliability, planning and operation of extra-high-voltage transmission lines, to be established by the commission.
-Authority for the commission to require utility companies to make interconnections and "energy exchanges" wherever "the public interest so required." -Government consideration of all land-use issues affected by construction of extra-high-voltage lines, "including preservation of scenic or historic sites."
The new proposals contain several innovations not included in earlier bills which died for lack of much Congressional support. Chief among these is the regional council concept which could permit the utilities and the FPC informally to hammer out mutually acceptable interconnection arrangements. Another sweetener for the power industry would enable a utility to acquire high-voltage right-of-way under Federal aegis rather than more troublesome state statutes.
In the past, however, electric utilities have resisted expansion of Federal regulatory powers over them. FPC chairman Lee C. White, commenting on the bill's prospects, said that “in all candor" he has received no indication of industry suport for the legislation so far. "But, on the other hand, there hasn't been any opposition, either," Mr. White said.
Should Congress agree to the commission proposals, the FPC will hold hearings on what sort of standards it should adopt. As for the regional organizations, "the FPC would pass on their basic organization to insure fairness," but they would "function independently," an FPC explanation of the legislation stated.
Once a council had formulated an extra-high-volume plan for its region it would submit it for FPC approval. Presuming it was found acceptable, the FPC would be empowered to grant "limited immunity from antitrust suits" provided there was "insubstantial" impact on competition, or loss of competition was "clearly outweighed by other public interest factors."
Earlier in the day a meeting of utility company representatives and state and Federal officials, held at FPC headquarters in Washington, heard that "human failure" was responsible for the overload on an extra-high-voltage transmission line in southeastern Pennsylvania that set off Monday's massive four-state power failure.
The human error that triggered the overload on the Nottingham-Plymouth Meeting 230-kilovolt transmission line occurred at two points: Philadelphia Electric's central dispatching office in Philadelphia, and at the company's Conowingo hydroelectric plant on the lower Susquehanna river.
Chairman White gave the following summary of facts supplied by Philadelphia Electric and the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland utility network serving the four-state blackout area:
-Using an operating plan that is in effect until a new 500-kilovolt transmission line goes into service this summer, Philadelphia Electric ordered the Conowingo plant to switch half of its output to a transmission line parallel to the Nottingham-Plymouth Meeting line at scheduled times during the day when all four Muddy Run generating units are making power. Conowingo, for reasons not yet explained, failed to do this on Monday. As a consequence, full output from both stations was moving through the single transmission line.
-The Nottingham-Plymouth Meeting line normally carries a 450,000-kilowatt load, and has a maximum load rating of 550,000 kilowatts. However, Monday's recorded peak of 606,000 kilowatts might have been sustainable-and, in fact, seems to have lasted between 13 minutes and 18 minutes. But the day happened to be warm and windless, aggravating the normal heating of the cables and causing them to sag toward a distribution line crossing beneath them at right angles. The resulting "flashover" tripped off the Muddy Rue units, unbalancing most of the grid's other generating plants.
-Instruments in the Philadelphia Electric dispatcher's office registered the existence of the overload, "but no action was taken."
In response to reporters' questions, Mr. White said the Philadelphia Electric control board is not equipped with automatic warning devices, but that meters merely "are marked at various (load) levels." He added that "normally there is not a criticality of time. There is nothing magic about 550.000 kilowatts." Asked if company engineers were aware that the affected transmission line could, under certain conditions, sag to the "flash-over" point, Mr. White answered, "Obviously not." He noted further that there are numerous other crossings along the same line where a "flashover" could occur.
AT THE MERCY OF SQUIRRELS
Even if the electric power failure which last week left some 13 million people in the Middle Atlantic area without electricity-some for as long as 10 hours-had been the first since the Great Blackout of 1965 in New York and the Northeast, it would have been one too many. But since 1965 the nation has had 17 lesser service interruptions known as "cascading power failures."
Once upon a time a major breakdown in an electric utility affected that utility's customers only, since each company operated in a sort of geographical island. The cascading, or domino, effects of a failure now are due in part to the close interconnections, established in recent years, of electric companies serving a particular region.
So when somewhere on a line in eastern Pennsylvania a short circuit occurred the other morning, it resulted in tripped switches across a 15,000-square-mile area served by five companies linked to what is called the "PMJ interconnection" in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey and part of Delaware.
Acknowledging that it is not known yet why a short circuit on one line resulted in a wholesale failure, Federal Power Commission Chairman White observes that even something seemingly so trivial as a squirrel getting trapped in a high tension circuit could trigger a massive power failure.
And two of the New Jersey utilities involved admit that there is no assurance a massive failure could not happen again. In Washington, the Administration is pressing for quick action on legislation to give the Government additional authority through the FPC, to bring about more reliable operation of the nation's electric systems.
Although the industry contends that the evident dangers of an intertie system do not outweigh its advantages, in terms of safety and operating economies, the public is beginning to wonder whether it is not true that the bigger they are. the harder they fall.
Plainly a close look at the whole intertie theory is needed. Present agitation for protection against failures ought not to be used as an excuse for new strictures in an industry heavily regulated already. But if the industry can't find answers on its own, the public well may figure that tighter Federal control is worth a try.
A large group of investor-owned companies for years has been conducting an advertising campaign assuring consumers that there is an abundance of electricity and always will be. To the consumers told by the FPC that their electric supply is at the mercy of squirrels, that scarcely is assurance enough.
[From the National Observer, June 12, 1967]
TALE OF POWER INTERTIES THE ANATOMY OF FAILURE: WILL SUMMER MEAN MORE BLACKOUTS?
(By Patrick Young)
Power-industry and Federal officials fear that summer may bring more major electricity failures, perhaps even a repeat of last week's blackout in parts of our Eastern states.
Their uneasiness is well founded. Since the paralyzing Northeast power failure of November 1965, there have been 16 "cascading" power disruptions in the United States, blackouts that began in one power system and spread to others through transmission lines interconnecting them. Last week's failure, coming at the beginning of the months when demands for electricity are heaviest, seemed to some industry experts an unfortunate omen.
"There is concern about individual utilities and their ties with other utilities." one Federal Power Commission (FPC) official acknowledged. "There is a danger, and a very serious concern on our part. But I don't want to give the impression that the nation faces a massive blackout."
The concern is not that the ties exist, but that they might not be strong enough. Increasingly over the past three decades, power companies have interconnected their systems to exchange electricity. Today nearly all of the nation's more than 3.600 public and private electric utilities exchange power with at least one other company.
The companies argue, and the FPC agrees, that such interties not only are more economical but also provide greater reliability. The nation can now generate 23 per cent more electricity than it needs. If one system's power supply suddenly drops below its demands-because a generating facility kicks out, for exampleexcess power can be brought in from other companies, if the interconnecting lines are strong enough.
But such interties also open up the possibilities of blackouts spreading over much larger areas. This is what happened in the early evening of Nov. 9, 1965. An equipment failure at a generating plant on the Canadian side of the Niagara River triggered a cascading power disruption that covered 80,000 square miles in eight states and Canada and left 30,000,000 people groping in darkness.
Last week's failure wasn't so widespread. Nor was it so disruptive, since it came in daylight hours. But it was hardly a minor matter. The power failure affected 13,000,000 people in parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland-15,000 square miles in all. Businesses and schools closed because of the blackout. Traffic lights failed, snarling traffic. People were trapped in elevators, and 1,500 persons had to be led to daylight from Philadelphia's subway tunnels.
The trouble began on a 230-kilovolt transmission line of Philadelphia Electric Co. Two of the company's generating plants use the line, which supplies electricity to the Philadelphia area. The company says its dispatchers were to switch half the power flowing from its Conowingo plant to another line whenever its Muddy Run plant was generating at full capacity.
OVER ITS LOAD RATING
This was not done on June 5, however. As a result, the company was sending 606,000 kilowatts across the line, about 150,000 kilowatts above normal and 50,000 kilowatts over its maximum load rating. The extra kilowatts raised the line's temperature, causing it to stretch and sag to within 18 inches of a low-voltage distribution line. This caused a short circuit of both lines, knocking them out of service at 10:18 a.m.
Then things happened fast. Philadelphia Electric is a member of the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland Interconnection (PJM), 12 power companies that
pool their electricity to serve nearly 49,000 square miles in five states and the District of Columbia. The short circuit automatically shut down the Muddy Run operation. Two other PJM generating plants also closed down, denying PJM 1,400,000 kilowatts of power almost instantaneously.
It was too great a power loss for the system to absorb. The lines that under a lesser emergency would have brought power simultaneously to the stricken area were themselves taxed too heavily. Within five minutes Philadelphia Electric and four other companies were knocked out of operation.
Power was restored to Philadelphia by 11:10 a.m., but Trenton, Newark, Wilmington, and several other cities were without electricity until the afternoon, and complete service wasn't restored to the four-state region until 8:20 p.m. One New Jersey community unaffected by the disruption was Menlo Park. where Thomas Edison developed the electrict light bulb.
Though engineers determined the initial cause of the blackout within two days, the reason why it spread so far continued to puzzle them. Lee White, the FPC's chairman, eased no one's nerves with a warning it could happen again. Noting that PJM utilities were behind schedule in constructing two powerful generating plants, he called the area's reserve power capacity “not all it should be." PJM, said Mr. White, "must be exceedingly cautious this summer.
He said the FPC was concerned also that a hot summer-in which electricityconsuming air conditioners would place huge demands on power systems-might create conditions for cascading power failures elsewhere. He specifically mentioned the states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa as potential trouble spots, though he refused to predict they would suffer blackouts.
The PJM failure raised questions about the wisdom of creating interlocking power systems, sometimes called grids. The Federal Government and the power industry, however, strongly defended the practice. The argument is that while the possibility of widespread blackouts exists, the likelihood that an area will experience a power failure diminishes with the pooling of electricity.
"YOU CAN RIDE THROUGH"
"The thinking is that if you can get your grid strong enough," explains one power-company engineer, "you can ride through these emergencies."
In support of this, Mr. White said that before last week's disruption, PJM had had more than 200 equipment failures in 10 years, and only once did any customer lose power. A power-industry official relates that when a generating plant near Cleveland suddenly shut down a few weeks ago, other companies in Ohio supplied the needed power to the area and a utility in Florida even sent excess electricity into the state. There was no loss of service.
Nonetheless, the PJM failure focused attention anew on the blackout problem and expedited the announcement of new FPC legislative proposals to meet the danger. The proposed bill received President Johnson's blessings.
Blackouts, said Mr. Johnson, "do not respect the season of the year or the hours of the clock. The next failue could just as easily strike in the cold of the winter, in the dark of night. We must take every proper step to avert such a possibility."
WHAT THE FPC IS SEEKING
The FPC will ask Congress for power to set standards covering the reliability. planning, and operation of transmission lines carrying 200 kilovolts or more. These extra-high-voltage lines are essential to the construction of regional power grids.
The FPC also wants regional organizations established by electric utilities "to co-ordinate planning for further interconnection and the construction of bulk power supply facilities." The measure would give the FPC power to require the companies to make interties and to exchange electricity wherever "the public interest so required."
The FPC will also release later this month a report by an advisory commission it appointed after the Northeast blackout to study the power industry's reliability. That report will recommend a series of design criteria for the power industry, and it wil suggest that the power companies test their systems on computers to see if they meet the criteria.
Such a computer test was run after the November 1965 blackout on the power pool that failed. Once the engineers ascertained what went wrong in Canada, they programed a computer with what they knew about the entire system.
Then they asked it what would happen if the Canadian plant failed in the way it had. The computer's answer was almost identical with what had happened the night of Nov. 9.
"It was," says one FPC official, "a very impressive confirmation of the accuracy of computer testing."
[From the Washington Post, June 12, 1967]
KEEPING THE LIGHTS ON
The Federal Power Commission lost little time in drafting an imaginative and far-reaching legislative proposal for reducing the recurrence of paralyzing electrical blackouts. Congress should respond by holding hearings as soon as it is feasible.
The "Electric Power Reliability Act," submitted by Chairman Lee C. White and his colleagues, would make the FPC responsible for coordinating and strengthening the interrelated grids of utility systems. The FPC would be empowered to review and approve the construction of the extra high voltage lines that link individual utilities. It would be empowered to require interconnections between utilities when they are in the public interest. And the FPC would be authorized, after consultation with regional councils of utilities, to "set forth reasonable criteria" for "reliable planning and operation," criteria that would include the provision of "reserve capacity for reliability."
There is some question as whether the provisions (sections 401(b) and 408) for ensuring adequate reserve generating capacity are sufficiently strong. But with the exception of that possible weakness, the FPC proposal is commendable. It would also establish a National Electric Studies Commission, designed to stimulate scientific interest in the provision of reliable service.
With a few distinguished exceptions, the electric power industry is not noted for its willingness to innovate. The FPC, which is principally concerned with rate regulation, is not now in a position to provide the leadership and technical guidance that are required to enhance the reliability of interconnected electric utilities. But a country that is capable of devising intricate systems for the exploration of space can surely solve the problems of keeping its lights on. The place to begin is in the Congress which ought to adopt and if possible strengthen the FPC's admirable proposal.
[From the Office of the Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs,
BETTY FURNESS PRAISES MOVE OF FEDERAL POWER COMMISSION TO IMPROVE ELECTRIC POWER SERVICES
Betty Furness, Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs, today praised action of the Federal Power Commission to improve services for electric power consumers.
Following the recent four-State blackout, Commissioner Lee C. White proposed legislation which would "set and enforce standards of reliability for the Nation's 3600 electric power producers.”
Basic aim of the bill is to prevent electrical blackouts.
President Johnson urged Congress to give the bill "prompt and favorable" consideration.
Betty Furness-the new Special Assistant to the President said: "Commissioner White acted quickly and responsibly to meet what is a basic need and right of most Americans. Nearly everybody depends on electric power. When that power fails, whole areas are paralyzed and everybody suffers. The bill Commissioner White proposed would help prevent blackouts which threaten human life, cause needless suffering and inconvenience, and result in astronomical economic waste. I strongly urge the bill's passage."
The proposed legislation calls for authority to order stronger interstate standards for power producers. The bill also calls for more high-power lines, and would give the FPC authority to insist that producers have more available power plants in reserve than they now have.
"This emergency back-up of electrical power is an absolute must for the American consumer," Betty Furness said.