Blog Archive

Friday, February 29, 2008

Note to Self: Pay attention to what you do in substations!

FPL. Florida Power and Light workers walk inside compound of the Flagami substation located next to FP & L headquarters in Miami, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008. An FP & L spokesman said the power outage that affected as many as three million people in southern Florida on Tuesday began at this substation. AP

Over the years I have been involved in thousands of switching orders and intricate operations involving substations. I've seen some mistakes made. I have personally made some of them. Heck, a few years ago I ordered a breaker to be closed which resulted in killing several cattle who had gathered around a downed transmission line. But, this guy has all of my experiences beaten hands down. Getting confused and tripping off 26 transmission lines and Turkey Point Nuclear Plant is quite the accomplishment!

I feel sorry for the guy, but this event, which plunged most of Florida into darkness, points out how easily a small mis-step can turn into a full blown disaster when dealing with electric power. When weather, or equipment failure, or a wreck plunges your home or business into darkness, there are folks who are instantly involved in doing complicated switching work like this and those folks are never going to be known or recognized unless they make a mistake. The same day this event occurred in Florida, it is likely that 5,000 complicated switching operations took place successfully all across North America, some of them right here in Glasgow, and none of those got any attention. In our business, success equals invisibility; but the slightest error opens the door to danger and death, or, at the very least, unwanted fame for being the guy that operated the wrong switch in the wrong order. When electric linemen or technicians make a mistake, people all over a huge state like Florida can know about it less than a second later!

I just thought you might like to know how the Florida situation relates to what happens in substations a lot like the one in the picture right here in Glasgow. For the most part, your team at the EPB is successful at these operations and thus, are mostly invisible. We like it that way!
Monday, February 25, 2008

Of Duke and Digital Television

A lot of folks in Glasgow got close to needing CPR on Saturday when, with 55 seconds left in the UK vs. Arkansas men’s basketball game, the screen went blank and suddenly, Duke vs. St. Johns appeared! I was one of them. Of course, my horror might have been a bit more pointed than yours, because when it first went black my knee-jerk reaction was that we might have had some sort of cable programming outage. However, when good old Duke appeared on my screen, it was clear that CBS was the culprit. Then I got this warm feeling that comes from the realization that others can make mistakes - really big ones - that do not come home to roost at the EPB’s door.

I don’t know for sure how long it took CBS to realize their error and cut back to the UK game, it seemed like eternity, but it must have been less than thirty seconds. Of course, like most really big mistakes, this one was much larger than just cutting away from one game for another. This mistake was compounded by the fact that the substitute game involved the team most UK basketball fans love to hate the most . . . the dreaded Duke Blue Devils.

Now, for those of you who called my home or emailed the EPB to protest this occurrence, please snap out of it! The EPB does not get a vote in what CBS, or its broadcast affiliates (of which we have three on our basic tier), display on their channels. I wish we did, but we have no more control over this than we do over what is happening in the United States Congress and we have some really good ideas they should listen to! Rather, we output to you what hits our antennae array on our tower and that is all we have to do with this. But, if you want to call the folks at CBS in New York to add to the hundreds of thousands who have already called them to complain about this mistake, their number is 1-212-975-3247. Of course, there is nothing they can do about it now, the deed is done. It is like some lawyer friends often observe: You can’t un-ring a bell.

But while we are talking about broadcasters and local affiliates, we also need to chat for a minute about the commercials and news items they are bombarding you with relative to the digital broadcast deadline on February 2009. If you are like me, it seems that every single news broadcast I watch on any of our affiliates includes some dire warning about this looming deadline. They make it sound like your television will cease to function on that date. Now, maybe they are just using some sort of new-wave advertising trick and those warnings are really just commercials for Best Buy or Circuit City, but let’s cut straight to the fact. If you are a customer of Glasgow EPB cable, nothing will happen to your ability to view your favorite programming in February 2009. The only thing happening on that date will be that the broadcasters will have to stop sending out their old analog signal. Now, if you happen to still pick up your television programming via an antenna on your home, then you will have a problem. But our cable customers have already been viewing the digital signal from our local broadcasters for over a year. We convert that signal back to analog format so that your televisions, no matter how old, can still pick up the programming. There is nothing to worry about!

Of course, if you have been reading my messages for the last few years, we do have some problems with receiving the digital broadcasts from Louisville and Nashville. This new transmission format was only designed to go about fifty miles, and we all know that we are twice that distance from both Louisville and Nashville. We are doing a number of tricks, at great expense, to retrieve those signals and convert them for you and it is possible that we may need to drop some of those signals in the future. In fact, one of the complaints we get most often is that folks do not like us having three CBS affiliates in a row on channels 8, 9, and 10. Of course, they are only there because we also have very vocal customer that feel the Louisville stations are the only ones we need and we have a similar amount who feel the same about the Nashville stations. Meanwhile, the Bowling Green stations can force us to carry them! So, that is how we wind up with three CBS affiliates.

Of course, after this weekend’s Duke substitution debacle, many may feel that we need no CBS affiliate at all! Of course, that will change too in a few weeks when March Madness kicks off. So, feel free to send your hate along to CBS instead of EPB, and also relax in the knowledge that you don’t have to do anything during the next year to make sure you continue to receive network broadcasts. But, if you have not seen your favorite broadcasts in High Definition . . . well, all I can say is, if you really don’t want to buy a new television, don’t go looking at the HD sets available at any local appliance vendor! A digital HD television really does change your life.
Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day, Not!

On the occasion of Saint Valentine’s Day, we will leave the bouquets of roses and sweet phrases to those lucky folks who are enraptured with their significant others. For the EPB, we will mark the day thinking about our significant partners who we will not be sending a box of chocolates. Let’s call it our anti-Valentine message. Here goes...

Providing internet service, especially high speed internet service, has never been easy in Glasgow, even from the very beginning back in 1996. Our problems are chiefly our size and our geography. The companies who built the major arteries of the world wide web in North America generally tied together major cities using the interstate highways and railroad rights-of-way as their construction corridors. Taking a quick look around Glasgow, you will note that we are situated upon neither. That problem vexes us with respect to many things. Attracting industry is tough because of that. Attracting the sorts of retail stores and restaurants many folks desire is a problem because of that. Finally, arranging high capacity circuits to the internet is exceedingly difficult for that very same reason.

From the beginning of our plan to provide Glasgow with faster internet service than that which is available in any other town our size we have been fighting with our geography and our dependance on mighty telecommunications corporations that could care less about us. So, it is with some of those companies in mind that we send out this anti-Valentine.

Our first card, with a big black heart on it, goes out to Qwest Communications. They are a little telecommunications company with, oh, about 36,000 employees. In the last fiscal quarter they had a net income of, ummm, about $366 million. So, as you can see, they are just barely scraping by. Two of those 36,000 employees, Holly McMillin and Frank Koldys came to call on the EPB just about a year ago. They had a fantastic offer for us. Qwest wanted to sell EPB high capacity circuits to their internet connection (the connection point is called a “POP” which is telecommunications geek-speak for Point of Presence) to replace the circuits we presently lease from AT&T (another black-heart recipient which we will discuss later). Further, they assured us that their circuit would double Glasgow’s transport speed and capacity to the internet and, this powerful new circuit would cost us less than what we are paying AT&T!

The EPB team listened to the offer. We looked at each other and rolled our eyes in disbelief. We knew in our heart that this could not be possible. We told good old Holly and Frank that we did not believe them. But Holly and Frank were not done yet. They double and triple checked their offer. They put it in writing. Still, we did not believe. Phone calls and emails from Holly came down on us like rain for the next several weeks. Qwest, it seemed, really, really loved Glasgow and longed to carry our data to Bowling Green and then out to the world wide web. Finally, after many versions of the offer were presented in writing and backed by emails stipulating their capacity as a big smart telecommunications company, above reproach, to deliver this new circuit at the guaranteed price by October of 2007, we gave in and accepted their proposal. Holly and Frank and Qwest were thrilled. Billy and the EPB team were thrilled. Celestial music played in the background and little song birds orbited around our heads. Qwest loves us! They really, really do!

That was June and July. We started notifying old partners, like AT&T, that we would be canceling some of the circuits we lease from them as the contracts expired in December. Then came August and September, and Holly and Frank didn’t call or send roses any more. By early October we demanded that they come by and let us know when the circuit would be connected. It was at that meeting that we knew our love had been misplaced. Yes, good old Holly and Frank now admitted that Qwest would not deliver on the offers made in person, in writing, and in emails. Well, actually, they decided they could deliver the high capacity circuit, but they backed up on the price. Now that it was October they said, the price for the circuit they offered more than tripled! We felt a bit unloved, but we did not have time to linger on our broken hearts. We knew that our customers would still be expecting high speed internet service. It was time for us to show Holly and Frank the door and give back our ring(and make a mental note to make sure everyone possible knows what they did to us) and call up AT&T and ask them for forgiveness. It was a humbling experience.

The folks at AT&T were happy to hear from us. They were quite thrilled to order up a new circuit to their POP in Louisville for us (at full price) and assured us it would be in service when ever they got good and ready. We gladly accepted their gracious offer since we looked around and saw no other option. At the same time, we noted how our customers use of the existing circuits was growing rapidly and we begged AT&T to put a rush on the new circuit as we had put all of our future in the hands of our friends at Qwest and they had broken our hearts and damaged our reputation with our customers. AT&T listened to our plight and smirked.

Still, at the dizzying pace of traffic in the left lane of the Bypass in Glasgow on a Friday afternoon, AT&T ordered our circuit and got to work on increasing our capacity to the internet by 50%. It was going to be in place by the end of the year. Then it was going to be in place by the end of January. Then it was going to be in place by February 13. Then, yesterday, they fired it up and . . . it did not work. “Darn!” ,we at the EPB exclaimed. “Hmmm,” the AT&T folks replied, “It seems that we told you to order the wrong kind of circuit.” So, here’s a big old anti-Valentine for you too AT&T. Enjoy!

Meanwhile, we are sitting here by the phone, hoping AT&T will call after they had their way with us yesterday. Maybe they will. Maybe today the new circuit, now ordered correctly, will start working. If it does, we really hope that Holly and Frank and the whole Qwest gang see us out with AT&T and it makes them jealous. But we have other plans as well.

No interstate or mainline railroad goes through Glasgow, but major electric transmission lines do. We have just cut a deal to build our own fiber optic circuit along one of those transmission lines all the way to Bowling Green. Once there, we plan on partnering with our sister utility, BGMU, to connect that fiber directly to one of the internet POP’s located in Bowling Green. THEN, we will control our own destiny. By July of this year that fiber interconnect should be complete and we will no longer be as geographically challenged as we have been. Perhaps Qwest and AT&T will send us a black valentine then. More likely, they will go back to doing what they always have done, forgetting that towns like Glasgow even exist.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

On Rare Occasions, The Good Guys Win One

For those of you who might have read some of my posts relative to ConnectKentucky, especially if some of you followed through by actually contacting Kentucky legislators about the bill they were trying to slip through, take a look at this article. It seems something swayed them away from this one opportunity to feather their nest. Congratulations! Makes you feel good to know that it is actually possible, in 2008, for regular folks not affiliated with some gargantuan corporation, to win a battle against the forces of entrenched greed. Thanks for all of you who looked into this situation.
Friday, February 1, 2008

What Public Servants Look Like

The term "public servant" is often over used and perhaps even hard for most to grasp, but here is a picture of some real ones. In this picture, taken at 1:00 on Friday, February 1, members of the EPB team are making repairs to a 69,000 volt transmission line just off 31E near the Cumberland Parkway. The 69,000 volt line is deenergized, but right below their feet is a 12,470 volt line that is energized and feeding hundreds of homes. The temperature, with wind chill, is about 15 degrees. At the top of the seventy foot pole, it is closer to 5 degrees. They are doing this in an attempt to keep the 15,000 folks in Glasgow warm and safe over the weekend.

The line they are repairing is one of three such lines that feed the city of Glasgow. During the storm of November 5, this section of line was heavily damaged and had been taken out of service until it could be completely rebuilt along with the steel structure at Cleveland Avenue substation. However, before this could all be done, along came the storms of January 29. That night both of the other two lines feeding Glasgow were also damaged and could only be repaired with temporary solutions. Thus, since the winds and storms seem to be never ending, these guys are rushing up repairs on the originally damaged section so we can switch the whole city to it while other repairs are made to the sections damaged on Tuesday night. Hopefully, if they can hold out against the winds and cold long enough, we will get this switching done and reinforce Glasgow's electric power grid a bit for the weekend. In a way I hate for everyone to know how vulnerable our power grid is right now, but I do want everyone to know that these brave craftsmen are the only thing standing between warmth and cold in Glasgow right now. If they do their work well, no one will even think about where their warmth comes from.

Such is the nature of public servants like these and many more in our community. When they do their work well, they become invisible. Everyone just assumes that these servants and the ultimate servant, electric power, are just like oxygen. . .it is just there and no one really knows, or cares, how it gets there. Where the truth is, that it takes brave folks like these, who are few, who are cold, who are tired from spending several nights fighting the elements, and who are human just like the 15,000 folks benefiting from their labor. If you are with friends this weekend enjoying the Super Bowl, take a few minutes to think about these guys and the work they did to make your gathering a possibility, because the technology that we rely on does not just come out of the sky!