Blog Archive

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Get Your Facts Here

Even though the idea of keeping in contact with our customers using this format instead of the old, once-a-month paper bill insert format is still quite new, it is already becoming clear that we need to talk more often. Heck, we need a couple of conversations every month just to help correct the information you might accidently acquire from the Glasgow Daily Times reports on our Board meetings because it is often incorrect. The story entitled “EPB increases rates” in the December 28 edition of the paper is certainly one of those instances.

While I will be the first to admit that a lot of the information transmitted in our Board meetings is complicated and heavy with numbers and decimal points that is really no excuse for making the kind of whopping mistakes in this article. The simple facts are that we need a small (2%) increase in our net electric power revenue to amortize the cost of building a new energy delivery point for our city. We are implementing that increase on January 1. At the same time, TVA is passing along a similarly small rate decrease (as part of their quarterly fuel cost adjustment) and their decrease combined with our increase will result in a small net decrease in kWh charges for all of our customers. Also, at the same time, we are adjusting the “customer charge” portion of our billing for most rate classes. The customer charge is the portion of the bill that assures us some revenue from a meter that is just sitting there for a month and passing no energy. The philosophy here is that we still have expenses in reading the meter, maintaining the plant serving the meter, sending out billing, etc., even if the meter is using no energy. So, to make sure that everyone pays their fair share, we have this charge, which everyone pays every month, before they even start using any energy.

The newspaper got this all confused. At your home you pay $8.29 per month now for that customer charge and on January 1 that goes up to $10.00. If you operate a small business, you already pay $10 per month for the customer charge (NOT $10 per kWh!) and we are not changing that. Larger businesses will see this charge increase from $25 per month to $45 per month and still larger businesses will see an increase from $25 per month to $120 per month. But none of those businesses will be paying $25, $45, or $120 per kWh! How on earth such figures as the ones in the newspaper could get by any copy editor is beyond by ability to comprehend. A kWh generally costs about seven cents in Glasgow. If anyone paid $10 or $25 per kWh as the newspaper indicates, they would be seeing monthly bills at their home and small businesses in the $25,000 per month range! I’m quite sure this would greatly disappoint our customers.

So, if you read this story and had chest pains, please take an aspirin and relax. Your kWh charge is actually going down a small amount on January 1. Your customer charge, for most of you, is going up a little. That is all there is to it.
Friday, December 21, 2007

ConnectKentucky should get lump of coal

This is a subject I first addressed a few weeks ago but it continues to deserve our attention. The background is that this organization, whose members are generally the big, rich, telephone companies and privately owned cable companies, ConnectKentucky, is hanging around our state legislature looking to siphon off our tax revenues for their own selfish purposes. They have been quite successful at this in the past. During the last couple of legislative sessions they have already been successful in getting millions of our tax dollars by claiming that they have a magic potion that results in more broadband facilities being built for the people of Kentucky.

Of course, the truth is that their members are having to build more broadband facilities (at a snail's pace) due to the fear of losing customers to more fleet-footed competitors. These competitors, like the Glasgow EPB, are never as wealthy or well financed as the members of ConnectKentucky, but, curiously, they have always been able to raise their own capital and purchase their own hardware without asking the State to fund them. This is not the case for the ConnectKentucky folks. They feel that the likes of AT&T, Windstream, and others similar poor and downtrodden telecommunications companies should get money from the Kentucky Revenue Cabinet to help them do what they have been responsible for doing for decades.

But don't just take my word for it. This link will take you to an article on ConnectKentucky by a real live journalist who is qualified to expand on the snake oil that CK (even under their new nation-wide moniker of Connected Nation), is trying to serve to all of our elected representatives.

Would you not be ashamed to lobby the Kentucky Legislature for additional funding for already wealthy companies when the finances of our Commonwealth are already so dire? That is not my word, those are the words of our new Governor as expressed on the front page of today's Courier Journal. Normal folks would be ashamed, but ConnectKentucky is not. During the holidays if you should happen to run across one of our legislators, let them know that you are watching them and ConnectKentucky and that the bill they are trying to sneak through in the next legislative session must die as well as ALL future funding for this cabal.

Of course, this sort of attempt to further enrich the already rich is not new and it was not invented by ConnectKentucky. Rather, this is a continuation of the river of greed that cuts so deeply through the landscape of our republic. More than a century ago, Orestes A. Brownson wrote in The American Republic, "The men of wealth, the business men, manufacturers and merchants, bankers and brokers, are the men who exert the worst influence on government in every country. . . . They act on the beautiful maxim, 'Let the government take care of the rich, and the rich will take care of the poor', instead of the far safer maxim, 'Let government take care of the weak, the strong can take care of themselves.'" Are these words not still true today? Are we going to do anything to make sure our elected officials recognize this truth?

So I make this simple suggestion, let's make the safe assumption that the members of ConnectKentucky are the strong, and they should get the heck out of our state legislature and get busy taking care of themselves. Let's drive this message home whenever and wherever we can.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007

EPB Internet + Mary Wood Weldon Library = Cool!

Do you know how great EPB internet service and the Mary Wood Weldon Memorial Library work together? No? Well let me tell you, they are a wonderful match! Here is a great example of how well they work together. Earlier today I came across another blog like this one entitled A Lucid Spoonful. If you click on the title you can go there and see it for yourself. The internet has millions of great sites like this one, but this one’s subject matter is of great interest to me so I was reading some of the information about our food and how we relate to that food.

In the blog I was reminded about a really talented author, Michael Pollan and some of his wonderful books on the subject of our food system. In particular I became interested in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and I decided I wanted to read that book.

So, next I clicked on the link from our page to the Mary Wood Weldon Memorial Library site. If you have not visited this site you are missing out on one of our great community assets. By clicking on the Online Catalog link on their homepage you get access to the whole database of books housed at the local library! Once in the on-line catalog I simply entered the author’s name and found that the library does indeed have a copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and that it was available to be checked out. Next, I just clicked on the little link to reserve the book and within twenty minutes I got a call from the fine staff at the library letting me know that the book was at the front desk awaiting my arrival to pick it up! Is that cool or what?

If you are one of the thousands of local folks who pay taxes to help fund the library but never utilize it, you should give it a new look. If you visit the real building you will find that it has been face-lifted inside and is very comfortable and inviting. If you use your internet service to visit it on-line, you will find the site bristling with new technology and great opportunities to re-establish your relationship with the library and its wonderful collection of books. Either way, you will come away with a new appreciation for this wonderful community asset. You might even come away with a great book like The Omivore’s Dilemma and some new ideas about how our community can create a sustainable economy. Check it out!
Sunday, December 16, 2007

It was a dark and stormy night...

For about five hundred homes and businesses in Glasgow, some of last night was a lot darker than usual. We had a power outage which started at 12:26 a.m. on Sunday morning which affected homes and businesses along Grandview Avenue, West Main Street, Cleveland Avenue, and the South Green Street area. While we had most of the customers back in service within an hour, a few customers closest to our Front Street Substation were off for about two hours.

Where power outages are concerned, this was really not a big one nor was it particularly long lasting. However, it did point up some interesting phenomena relative to our power system and what happens during a power interruption that you might be interested to know. This outage occurred because our power system was severely damaged on November 5 and many parts of the power network are still undergoing extensive repairs. In particular, this outage was caused by the failure of some temporary jumpers installed on our transmission line, near the intersection of Samson Street and Front Street. They failed during a wind gust and fell down across a 12,470 volt distribution circuit constructed at a lower position on the transmission poles. Since these jumpers were connected to the ground, a short circuit occurred and relays at Front Street Substation automatically opened the distribution circuit. If you were awake (and from the phone calls we got it is obvious a lot of folks were), you saw this as a blink followed immediately by your lights flashing back on and then blinking back off (this is the automatic sequence we have programmed into substation circuit breakers to open circuits when a fault occurs and then attempt to reclose the circuit several times in the hope that the fault clears). If you watched closely you then saw your lights stay off for five seconds and then flash back on followed by them going off again for one minute before flashing back on one more time. After the one minute pause the relays are programmed to give up on the process. It is at that point that we call the breaker “locked out” and human intervention is then required.

My house happened to be one of the five hundred affected by this outage. I was awakened by the emergency lighting coming on in my bedroom and I knew just what those flashes of light meant . . . a locked out circuit breaker. Now, at 1 a.m. we do not have folks at work. Instead, we are doing the same thing that you are doing, we are all asleep. So, it takes a few minutes for us to roll out of bed, find clothes in the dark, find our way out of the house, figure out how to get the garage door open without power, drive to the office, and figure out how to disarm our security system so we can get in the building. Since I live so close to the EPB office, I am often the first one there on these occasions and this was one of those times. I got there less than fifteen minutes after the breaker locked out and several more members of the EPB team were close behind.

When you walk in the EPB dispatch center at 1 a.m. to start evaluating a power outage you are immediately faced with a dilemma. There are always hundreds of folks calling in on the phone and, since we are very concerned with our customer calls, there is one force pulling on you to start answering the phone. But, answering phone calls that go along the lines of “What is wrong with my power/When will it be back on?/Can you get my house back on first?”, accomplish nothing toward actually figuring out what is going on and calling in the right folks and equipment to start repairs. So we are immediately torn between the phone and our computer and radio systems which we know will lead to fixing the problem. Much of this dilemma could be eliminated by our customers refraining from calling in unless they heard or saw something that might help us fix the problem. Just calling in to become the 300th person to tell us about an outage that we already knew about anyway is not productive for any of us. In general, if your lights go off at 1 a.m., and you note that all the street lights are also off as well as all your neighbors, you are just wasting time and resources when you call in. In addition, if you call in less than twenty minutes after the lights go off, you will be talking to someone who just woke up themselves and is struggling to put their pants on. The person answering the phone will not know what happened, they will not know where it happened and they will not know how long it will take to undo this unknown event. We are not psychic and we generally sleep at night just like you. We need a few minutes to get up, get dressed, get in, and get on our computers to see what they can tell us. I can testify that the first fifty calls I answered this morning all asked what the problem was, and it was our time spent on those phone calls that was keeping us from finding the answer to that problem!

As I said in my previous post on this very forum, these things are going to happen more often, especially in the days and weeks after a massive storm event wherein much of our system was damaged and only repaired temporarily. Repairs are not complete because of the other severe weather in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa taking all of our contractors away. They all packed up and left to help rescue the one million folks who were without power in that region. So, please, prepare for outages. When they occur, stay calm and know that my team is on the case and will have your power back on as soon as humanly possible. We will be the ones rushing to the EPB office while half-dressed. You can be the ones who just roll back over and go back to sleep!
Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Headlines Announce Ghost of Christmas Future

There were two different news stories, to the casual reader totally unrelated, on the same page of The Courier-Journal today and they really do have a lot in common. One read: “Almost a million lack electricity” and the other read “Melting of Arctic ice worries scientists.” The former was about the massive ice storm which is putting so much of the mid-section of our country back into medieval conditions due to the lack of electric power and water. The latter was about climate change and how many experts in the field of global climate now think that the Arctic Ocean may be totally free of ice in the summers as early as 2012 (the earliest predictions of this phenomenon were about 2040 until this new data). As an electric utility operator, we know these two stories are inextricably related.

I have an opinion on what is causing the rapid changes to our climate, but, since I am not an expert in the field, I will refrain from sharing that opinion. But no matter what force is causing the changes, surely we can all agree that our climate is warming and mother nature is changing her habits. For those of us entrusted with designing, operating, and maintaining electric power delivery networks, this warming is sending a cold chill down our spines.

Electric power networks are complicated and relatively difficult even when things are “normal,” but they are becoming downright unstable in the new climate we are facing. For example, since the 1940's the industry has had general engineering data that our part of the country should only expect 1/4 inch of ice to accumulate on our outdoor hardware and that no more than four pounds per square foot of wind will blow against that accumulated ice. Those given factors gave rise to everything we chose to build our networks. The diameter of the poles, the strength of the downguys and anchors, the holding capacity of the insulators and the strength of the conductors all have been chosen based upon those expected conditions. Now those conditions are changing.

Now, bare wires carrying very high voltages form the basis for a network which is dangerous and, as I said earlier, a bit unstable to begin with. When extremely long periods of 100 degree temperatures are added, stressing the insulators, transformers, fittings, and other paraphernalia that we use to deliver energy to your homes, the networks perform poorly. When wind and ice far in excess of what the lines were designed to withstand are added to the equation, the result is . . . well, headlines like the one mentioned above. But there are other new stresses being applied to our power network as well. These don’t get any attention, but they are enemies of reliable networks as well.

One of those enemies, appropriate for this holiday season, is the ghost of Christmas Past. By that I mean we are all haunted by the things we have done wrong in the past. Perhaps the worst of the past sins committed by the EPB was constructing so many power lines along the rear lot lines of new residential developments instead of in the front of the lots. When we built power lines in back yards, we guaranteed ourselves terrible problems in the future, and that future has arrived. Over the years the general prosperity of folks in many neighborhoods lead to the accumulation of the trappings of wealth. Swimming pools, extensive landscaping, cherished trees, garages, outbuildings, and fences have rendered the average power line constructed along a rear lot-line totally inaccessible to us and our equipment. Combine that past sin with the changing climate of today, and you have a reliable recipe for unreliable electric power. These issues cause us to spend twelve hours repairing storm damage that might have been repaired in four hours if the lines were in an accessible location. The real problem here is that a few folks can, quite innocently, make decisions that turn their back yards into minefields for our personnel and those decisions can result in hundreds of folks being in the dark for those excess hours. It also subjects our personnel to far more dangerous work environments, and the work they do is already dangerous enough!

While we can identify the changes in climate and the dramatic effect those changes are having on our weather right here in Glasgow, and we can identify these sins of the past that add to our problems in repairing the damage caused by extreme weather, we cannot fix them anytime soon. The design and construction materials we use to build power networks are not changing anywhere near as rapidly as the climate is and we are not about to wake up on Christmas morning, like Jacob Marley did, and find that all of this was just a dream and that keeping Christmas in our heart will fix our problems. No, our sins of the past are real and cannot be changed any more rapidly than they developed over the many decades which elapsed before today.

The only thing you can do to immediately seek refuge from these ghostly visitations is to prepare. Take a look around your home and think about how you would use it as a tent in a rustic camping area with no electricity or water. Think about having to camp out in your home for at least a week without any of the modern technology that you have come to rely upon. Do you have what you would need? Is there a few gallons of clean drinking water available? Do you have an alternative heat source, something like a kerosene heater, or a fireplace, with a supply of fuel for that heat source? Do you have a battery operated radio and a supply of fresh batteries? Do you have a grill prepared for cooking food at your campsite? Do you keep a supply of food items that can be cooked on said grill? If you cannot answer all of these questions affirmatively, then I suggest you buy yourself something you can really use for Christmas . . . camping equipment and supplies! I promise you they will be the right size and will be utilized sooner or later. I hate to say it, but it is true.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007

ConnectKentucky Wants Your Tax Dollars

This is sort of a "rerun" post. I first commented on this topic back in August when I was first experimenting with the creation of this site. However, now it is on the front burner again because ConnectKentucky is trying to ram a piece of legislation through the next session of the Kentucky Legislature aimed at further enriching some of its members.

ConnectKentucky is simply a front for protecting the interests of incumbent telephone and cable companies. The very idea that they have some claim to the proliferation of broadband in Kentucky is laughable. Broadband, if one can even call DSL broadband, is available in Kentucky due to the vigorous lead exerted by several municipalities in Kentucky. The big telephone and cable companies have responded, as Adam Smith predicted in 1776 when Smith noted that: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.", by starting the process of upgrading their networks as competitive pressures have been brought to bear. Although Smith had no idea what a broadband network was, he was still accurately describing the perfect model for broadband deployment. If a community wants more bandwidth than the local telephone or cable company wants to deploy, then they should be totally free to deploy it themselves and attempt to interrupt the telephone or cable company's "interest."

Now ConnectKentucky wants to claim credit for what the marketplace hath wrought, and they also are determined to convince the Commonwealth of Kentucky to finance their efforts. They spend their time going around the state asking local decision-makers to participate in their sham "county planning" while their real mission is to wrap themselves in a false cloak of altruism so no one will notice when they try to annex our state legislature for their benefit. They would like for the Kentucky legislature to fund their snake oil wagon so the "poor" members of the coalition (the incumbent telephone companies and their stock holders) don't have to continue paying for their "groundbreaking" activity. Further, they see themselves as such geniuses that their model should be spread far and wide in other states. What a joke!

Even now they are planning a piece of legislation and seeking the support of the leadership of the Kentucky Legislature for this ridiculous legislation. They want tax breaks for their members (the big telephone companies like AT&T and WindStream and other similarly well heeled corporations) while shutting out any similar support for the real Kentucky innovators, the municipalities who have spent their own money building real broadband networks while the telecommunications giants simply look for ways to line their pockets at the expense of the people of Kentucky.

This bill attempts to allow the big telephone and cable companies to keep 15% of the tax revenue you pay on your telephone and cable bills each month. You see, they need this extra money to pay for the "huge" investments they are making in Kentucky to deliver broadband services to you and me. The bill then would have the State paying everyone who buys broadband services for the first time (from those same rich telephone and cable companies) a $250 reward. That's right, they want taxpayers to help them build their networks and then have the State pay folks to connect to that network and start paying the phone company charges for the services. I'm telling you, you cannot even make this stuff up!

Everyone should contact their state legislators and ask them to oppose ConnectKentucky's latest attempt to feather their own nest. If there are excess state funds to help build more broadband networks (and we really doubt that there are), at least make sure that the municipally owned, not-for-profit networks have an equal chance to benefit from those funds. In fact, why not let any incentives go directly to the consumers to help them pay for broadband services instead of sending the money to the telephone companies? The new ConnectKentucky bill would need to be radically altered to allow that to happen, but it sure would be a much better bill if it did.