Blog Archive

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

About this Morning...

Unless you are one of a very small group of EPB customers served by our R.R. Donnelley Substation, you got a surprise this morning around 5:30 when your power went off. Even though this happened on what is going to be the hottest day of 2010 (so far), it really had nothing to do with the heat or the capacity of our network. Rather, like most power outages that are not associated with a storm, it happened because of something really small cascading through our network to become something large, all within a time of less than one second.

For those of you interested in the blow-by-blow account of what happened, here goes. First, a number of birds congregated on a pole near the square in Glasgow and caused a short circuit from a 7200 volt circuit to ground. That fault should have been cleared by the nearby Front Street Substation circuit breaker, which would have opened and closed, clearing the bird issue and causing only a momentary blink to the power of about 300 homes and businesses. This morning, that circuit breaker failed to do its job, so its backup protective device took over. That device is something we really don't like, and we are actually preparing to replace, but today, on June 22 2010, it was still in service. This device, a grounding switch, creates another fault on our 69 kV transmission line so that yet another device at our Haywood Substation operates to clear the fault. That circuit breaker at Haywood did interrupt the circuit and the fault, but that operation created a very large outage affecting nearly everyone in Glasgow.

Once the EPB team got some pants on and got rolling, we were able to diagnose the problem pretty quickly and started getting Glasgow's electric power back on. All but that original circuit at Front Street were back in service an hour later. We finally bypassed the circuit breaker that failed to properly clear the fault initially and our folks are still doing triage on it to ascertain why it failed to perform. Hopefully it will be back in service and all of our assets will be available for duty later in the day when the temperature is supposed to be 100 degrees. This is all in a day's work at the EPB.

This whole event just underscores and validates our decision to add a second power delivery point to Glasgow (which is under construction right now). By the end of the year an event like this would affect a much smaller segment of the community since the transmission circuits will be smaller and more redundant. The ground switches and Front Street Substation and Industrial Drive Substations will be removed and replaced with modern protective devices driven by our ubiquitous fiber optic network. Still, even with all of the new technology that is on its way, strange events relating to birds, squirrels, car accidents, and other odd circumstances will happen. When they do, you can count on the EPB team to jump up and take action. That is what we do!
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Glasgow's Chance to Plug the Hole in the Gulf

One out of twenty people on the face of planet earth is an American, but Americans use one out of every four gallons of oil produced on the planet. This obvious imbalance is the underlying reason why an out-of-control oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is fouling the ocean and is going to foul hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles of pristine shoreline. This environmental disaster proves that there is really no such thing as cheap energy. There is always a price to be paid which is far greater that the price at the pump or the price at the electric meter. The only way to reduce the price is by reducing our consumption to a level equal to our fair share of the world’s resources. We need to stop using 25% of the world’s energy and move toward that 5% level which is proportionate to our population.

How can we Glaswegians help move our society in this direction? Obviously, even if everyone in Glasgow drastically reduced their fossil fuel footprint, the result would not make a toenail’s worth of difference in that footprint. Still, every move we locals make in the right direction improves Glasgow’s economy and our quality of life. We might not solve our country’s problems, but we can certainly improve our back yard. Let’s talk for a minute about how we can do that.

The most direct route to reducing the need for risky offshore oil drilling is for us to use less oil. Driving less is the best way to accomplish this reduction (also using less plastic would help a lot too), and, as it turns out, fewer miles driven has an immediate impact on the livability of Glasgow. Substituting bicycles or walking shoes for vehicle miles benefits the community as a whole and you personally. Did you know we have a newly formed group that is trying to convince local governments to create better sidewalks, trails, and cycling facilities to make it easier to commute by walking or cycling? The group is a subset of Sustainable Glasgow, Inc., called Bicycles of the Barrens. You can read more about their work, join them, and participate in this movement by clicking here and following them on Facebook.

Reducing the number of miles we drive is not something that will come easily, but, even without the present crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, everyone must recognize that oil supplies (like coal supplies) are finite and sooner or later we will all be driving less because less cheap energy is going to be available. Does it not make sense for us to prepare for this now instead of being caught off guard some time in the future?

Of course, for us to be able to enjoy a pedestrian lifestyle and save on the amount of gasoline we use, we need to have plenty of local shops and restaurants open within easy reach of folks walking or cycling from their homes. How can we bring this about? We can commit to spending more of our dollars within our own zip code! If we want more local restaurants that we can walk to, then we need to go to local restaurants more. If we want more local clothing stores, bakeries, bookstores, coffee shops, hardware stores, and appliance stores, then we need to stop wasting the gas going to another town to spend local dollars in their stores and restaurants. We can save our community and help plug the hole in the Gulf with simple, enjoyable acts like walking to a locally owned restaurant and eating there. This is not an act of sacrifice! It is an opportunity to have a vacation experience right here in Glasgow and do something to plug that hole in the Gulf.

All forms of energy, oil, electricity, natural gas, suffer from the same risks and environmental costs that are never accounted for until a disaster like the TVA coal ash spill or BP’s present oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico strikes. So, we should talk about what we can do to reduce our energy demands on the planet through electric power as well. For many months we have been using this blog to talk about the need to reshape the way we use electric power during the day. Not only have we been talking with you about it, but for the last twenty years we have been preparing for a world where electric power would be priced according to the time of day in which the energy is used. There is a reason for this.

We purchase our power from TVA and TVA mostly burns coal to produce that power. For about twenty years TVA has sold that power at very low rates which sent the signal for folks to use all of the power they wanted, no matter what time of day they might want to use it. This signal has worked so well that, today, on a hot summer afternoon from 2:00 until about 8:00, TVA no longer has the capacity to generate all of the power we are using. To keep the system stable, TVA calls up it neighbors and purchases power from them. Of late, even the neighbors do not always have enough reserves to satisfy our spiraling demand for electric power. So, TVA finally decided to face reality and announced that they would join nearly every other electric utility in the nation and start charging for electricity based upon the time of day. We are fine with that as we have the technology to do that, but, a majority of the other TVA distributors feel they are not ready and have steadfastly opposed any move toward this imminently sane solution to a real problem. As a result, Glasgow’s readiness to help with our nation’s energy problems is still moot because our energy supplier will not sell us energy in a way which allows us to utilize our technology. Meanwhile, our coal plant smokestacks keep belching CO2 into the atmosphere much like BP’s gusher is sending oil and natural gas into the Gulf.

Glaswegians can make some headway on this problem as well. On weekdays this summer, start thinking about what you could do to reduce the energy consumed by your home or business between 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Delay washing clothes until later or do them on the weekends. Start thinking about these peak hours and how you might actually reduce the money we send out of Glasgow to TVA by proving how you can respond to price signals like these. Then, when TVA finally allows this system to be implemented, you and we will be ready and able to exploit these new rates. We will reduce Glasgow’s energy footprint and, hopefully, spend those dollars saved in local businesses which will, in turn, continue to enrich our lives in Glasgow. This vision of a perpetual circle of economic vitality is what we are talking about when we talk about creating a sustainable local economy. This is what we call localism. Localism might be the only fabric strong enough to patch the hole at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and we can start weaving it right now.

Want to help solve our energy mess? Live Local.