Blog Archive

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Ice Storm of 09

Well, our lives have not been a bit boring over the last couple of days. How about yours? We spent the day Monday reviewing our disaster plans, fueling vehicles, agreeing on work schedules, stocking trucks, and preparing for the worst. Tuesday morning about 4:00 a.m., the freezing rain commenced and so did our troubles. As usual, no plan really survives contact with the enemy, and some of our plans fell apart, but for the most part everything went quite well.

As we sat in the dispatch center and monitored our substations, it was amazing to view the radar as Glasgow straddled the line between ice and rain. That played out just as it showed on radar as the northern half of our service area was very hard hit by ice and fallen trees, while the southern half escaped with very little damage to our networks. However, just to our north, east and west, our neighboring utilities have not been so lucky. As this is written there are over 62,000 customers of TVA distributors in Kentucky who are still without power. Conversely, there are none here in Glasgow. I would like to say that is because of our great planning, but there is also a large element of luck and geography that must be considered as well.

Still, everything did not go as we wished. Our biggest problem throughout the weather event was, and to some extent continues to be, our telephone connections to the outside world. Our telephone partner, Cinergy (now Norlight) uses a long haul fiber provider called Kentucky Data Link (KDL) and KDL suffered numerous cuts to their fiber lines due to down trees, poles, and simply ice thickness that damaged the cables. While this is not preventable, utilities strive to offset this danger by providing a number of redundant routes to serve an important network like the one serving all of our phone customers in Glasgow. We had been assured by our telephone partner that we were served by multiple redundant routes. However, they were not redundant enough and all of our telephone customers were off for about fourteen hours. We sincerely apologize for that outage and we are already looking to Norlight to rectify this situation.

Speaking of redundancy and diversity of network segments, we also purchase our internet connections to the outside world from more than one vendor so that all of our customers will not be down should one fail. One of those vendors was also KDL and, as a result, many of our internet customers were also without service when KDL’s network was damaged. Even today that connectivity has been up and down some, so, this is not totally over yet.

Finally, one good thing that has come from this event is that we have learned how to use Twitter to keep folks better informed of the status of Glasgow’s critical power and broadband networks. During this event alone some fifty new folks have become Twitter “followers” of Glasgow EPB by going to this site, setting up an account, and choosing to click the “follow” button to be updated when we post new information. We also learned how to have that information automatically appear on our web page for those who do not want to jump on Twitter. The service is also capable of sending the information as a text message to your cell phone and we think that would be fantastic since you should be able to get these text messages even if your home has no electric power (so long as your cell phone battery is charged up).

So, that is where we stand after two days of extremely horrible winter weather. We survived better than most, we had some failures of technology, and we learned some new ways to serve our community better in the future. Here’s to hoping that spring is just around the corner!
Saturday, January 24, 2009

Page Two

A few days ago I was shopping in a local business when I noticed some folks examining a smartly styled electric space heater. “This is the one Paul Harvey talks about,” one of the anxious shoppers remarked. “Yes,” replied a bystander, “it is supposed to keep the whole house warm and save you more than 50% on your electric bill.” Now that attracted my full attention. I had not heard Paul Harvey making this proclamation, but I was intrigued. The heater was handsome and it had some very cool looking lights and dials. It even had a remote control! However, when I spun it around to look at the UL label it clearly stated that it was a 1500 watt device. This was a $400, 1500 watt electric heater. Nearby were dozens of other 1500 watt electric heaters, and most of them were about $60, and I can assure you that both will do exactly the same thing. Sadly, no matter what Paul Harvey says, a 1500 watt heater is a 1500 watt heater, at least so far as the cost of operating it goes. I felt bad for the excited shoppers. I felt worse for the scores of folks who might have been romanced by the remote control and the flashing lights on the $400 unit, because they are going to be disappointed when they get their electric bill.

A 1500-watt electric heater, whether it cost $400 or $60, is going to consume 1.5 kWh of electric power each hour that it runs. At today’s inflated cost of electric power that translates into fifteen cents for each hour the heater is running. So, if you are trying to save money by turning back the thermostat on your central heat and using one of these space heaters for the room you spend most of your time in, just running the 1500 watt heater could cost more than $100 per month! If this is going to save you 50% on your heating bill, well, you would likely have to be maintaining the rest of your house at about 55 degrees or so. I hope you realize this is not likely to happen. I wish that was not the case, but the laws of thermodynamics are not alterable, even by a kindly old gentleman like Paul Harvey.

Clearly, folks are looking to believe in something that will give them some relief from the high cost of electricity. If it isn’t the Paul Harvey heater, then the attraction of the “Amish fireplace” must be the answer (sorry, but look closely at those full page advertisements as well . . . the Amish fireplace is just another 1500 watt electric heater). But the truth is there is no technology that is going to change the fact that electric energy is very expensive in 2009 and it is likely to climb even higher.

Why has this happened? Well, this scenario has been developing for several decades. To a large extent, energy is expensive today because it was too cheap for many years. Cheap electric power caused us all to use it carelessly. At our homes we have piled up electronic gear, televisions, computers, video game consoles, DVD players and other appliances use spiraling amounts of power. In our communities, we have demanded, and received, a steady progression of big box retail stores which demand staggering amounts of electric power. Regionally, we have invited, and welcomed many large industrial facilities that consume unbelievable volumes of electric power. For example, a new facility recently announced near Clarksville, Tennessee, will demand more electric power than five Glasgow’s! While all of these loads have drastically increased our net need for electricity, the cost of building and operating new power generation facilities has skyrocketed. So, our present cost of electric power is a direct descendent of our wishes. My mother used to warn me to “be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.” My mother was right. We wished for constant growth, and we got it. Now, the cost of electric power is demonstrating the folly of our old assumption that all growth is good.

It is also not just our history that is driving up the cost of electric power. Our present has a lot to do with it as well. Surely you have heard about TVA’s massive spill of coal ash from the Kingston Steam Plant into the Clinch River. The cost of cleaning up that mess will likely exceed a billion dollars, and every bit of that cost will wind up on our electric bills. Our Congress is also very likely to implement new restrictions on all coal burning power plants. While I am certainly in agreement that we must reduce the amount of CO2 we are dumping into our atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuel, there is no way to do this without adding additional cost to each kWh that we consume.

But there are some bright spots in our energy future. Suddenly we have a president who is extolling the virtues of converting our electric power delivery systems to “smart grids.” At the same time, TVA is now actually talking about the virtue of the “infotricity” network that we have been shouting about for twenty years. Perhaps the planets are lining up for us to finally be able to use our broadband network to change the way we use electric power, and that could result in us learning how to actually reduce the amount of power that needs to be generated. In time, this may actually reduce the cost of a kWh of electric power. But, in the short term, the cost of electricity is high and the consumption of a 1500 watt heater is going to be 1.5 kWh per hour . .n . and THAT is the rest of the story!
Monday, January 19, 2009

WBKO - The Immaculate Reception

In case you have not heard, WBKO is making the transition to digital broadcasting! Good grief are they ever making the transition. If ever anything has been planned, discussed, promoted, scheduled, re-scheduled, explained, canceled, then finally completed in a more public and convoluted fashion than this transition I don't know what it could have been.

However, we now have it on good authority from WBKO that they have finally, once and for all, finished installing their antenna today. After that call we returned our channels 12, 13, 14, 24, and 513 to normal configuration to receive the signals from this wonderful new digital transmitter and antenna that has taken longer to gestate than a baby elephant. When we say we returned things to normal we also need to express our thanks to the team at SCRTC for helping to deliver a feed for WBKO that was usable during the many times that their regular broadcast signal was off and on during this process over the last couple of months. THANKS SCRTC!

Now, we hate to say this, we have some antenna work to do on our own tower. Yes, there is still one more change in our broadcast tier that we promised for the first of the year - we still owe you signal from WSMV in Nashville. We also owe you better reception of a couple of our remaining Louisville signals. We plan to do this by replacing our antenna array on our tower sometime over the next couple of weeks - when the weather allows. We will try to keep you updated via Twitter as this work is about to be done so you will be warned about any possible outages which may result from this work. If you have still not started following the EPB Twitter updates, you can do so by clicking this link and following the directions to set up a Twitter account and then click on the "Follow" button for Glasgow EPB.

I really hope that, for Valentines Day we can give you the final and stable collection of broadcast channels we have been promising. Further, I hope to be posting a lot of new information about a new service we have been struggling to complete for you over the last four months - Video On Demand!