It's been a long time since I last got a google news alert for "Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline."  So long, in fact, I'd forgotten I even had those search terms set to notify.  But, just in time for Halloween, the PATH zombie reared its ugly head and I got a notice last week that some right-wing think tank had published a paper where those terms were mentioned, America’s Electricity Grid: Outdated or Underrated?
And what did the author have to say about PATH, more than three years after its death?  How has history treated this stunningly costly failure of "independent" planning?
Despite identification of areas in which transmission capacity is limited, a “not in my backyard” (or anyone else’s, in some cases) attitude toward new transmission line siting has resulted in cancellation or delay of some new transmission lines.

For example, in 2011, PJM cancelled the proposed Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) project, a 275-mile transmission line that would have run through West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland to deliver electricity into Northern Virginia. Although the line was designed to improve reliability in eastern PJM, changing forecasts of electricity demand growth and intense opposition to siting the line led to the project’s cancellation.
It's the opposition that will be remembered, not individual analyses and the fine line that supposedly determined this white elephant was needed.

Hey, remember this?  PATH's talking heads insisted that opposition had nothing to do with PATH's cancellation.

But, history says it did.

While the article's conclusions are pretty screwed up, it does a nice job explaining the bulk power system and federal regulation thereof.  It's a good "backgrounder" for folks new to the transmission world.  Think about how much more reliable our system would be though, if we brought back the "islands" of the past and operated them as smaller parts of the bigger system (aka "microgrids").
Beginning in the late 1920s, electric utilities began to integrate their operations to improve reliability and reduce costs. Previously, utilities had operated as “islands,” meeting the demand for electricity solely from their own generating plants. To ensure reliable service, this meant building extra generating capacity to keep in reserve, in case unexpected problems caused their plants to shut down.[2] By integrating their operations, utilities could provide more reliable service without building as much backup generating capacity. In essence, if a generating plant at Utility A suffered a forced outage, one of Utility B’s generators would be available to ensure the lights stayed on. The concept is similar to diversifying a financial portfolio. Instead of investing everything into just one company’s stock, buying multiple stocks, bonds, and other investments reduces the risk of a sudden financial loss.
Microgrids that can be islanded from the larger system at times when the larger system fails (remember Superstorm Sandy?) can continue to provide power for necessary services.  And if microgrid "A" suffers a forced outage, it can borrow from microgrid "B", or "C," or "D," or any other nearby microgrid.  Relying on just a handful of generators and long-distance transmission lines creates parasitic load pockets with no native generation.  Those folks have nowhere to turn in case of emergency.

Building more transmission lines isn't the answer.  The answer is a more democratic electric grid system that benefits consumers and local communities, not gigantic, investor-owned utility holding companies.
 
 
From the "better idea than PATH" files:

An independent company has received state approval to build a 750-MW natural gas fired electrical plant in Loudoun County, Virginia.  The plant is expected to help fuel Northern Virginia's many energy hog data centers.
Virginia regulators have approved construction of Panda Power's proposed 750-MW Stonewall natural gas-fired plant to be located south of Leesburg.

The project was strategically sited in one of the fastest-growing counties in the US, Panda said. The region is home to the Dulles Technology Corridor, a national hub for data storage, defense and technology companies. Dominion, the utility serving the region, said recently that demand from the facilities is expected to reach 1,000 MW annually in 2017.

The project would reduce Virginia's reliance on imported power to fill the gap between in-state production and load growth, Panda said.
 
 
After two years of Dominion refusing to do any publicity on its Mt. Storm - Doubs transmission line rebuild, rival FirstEnergy has swooped in to take all the credit for the project.

Cue the irony.
While Dominion has been doing a great job with directly affected landowners, the company has completely failed to disseminate any information about its project to the greater community.  As if folks don't notice the access roads, the helicopters, the construction traffic, the road closures, the implosive splicing...  I've gotten mighty tired of having to reassure people that this is not the PATH project, that this is a permitted activity, and that the world is not exploding.  But I do it, not for Dominion, but for the people who are the victims of Dominion's "secret" rebuild project.

Mt. Storm - Doubs (MSD) is a smarter, better solution than building the PATH project ever was.  So, let's get 'er done, fellas,  so that I can stop having this distraction sitting on the edge of a rather full plate
.

The MSD transmission line begins in Mt. Storm, West Virginia
and ends at the Doubs substation in Frederick County, Maryland.  The 96 miles of the line located in West Virginia and Virginia are owned by Dominion.  The last 3 miles of the line in Maryland are owned by FirstEnergy.  Each company is responsible for permitting and constructing its own segment of this project.  Dominion has been working on its portion of the project for more than 4 years.  FirstEnergy only recently got off it's corporate ass to do its part on the last three miles.

Well, yay, FirstEnergy!  You da man!  Fourteen transmission towers and 3 miles of line? 
Awesome!  Put Toad Meyers in a hardhat and push the "on" button.  That should ameliorate your billing and meter reading fiasco, right?

Wrong.

Back in 2010, while the PATH was still madly attempting to get it's 300 mile, 765kV transmission line sited and permitted
on new right of way, Dominion dropped a bombshell on transmission planner PJM Interconnection.  Dominion proposed several alternatives to the PATH project (which was never actually "needed").  One of the alternatives involved rebuilding MSD because of deteriorating towers.  A rebuilt and modernized MSD would increase the thermal capacity of the existing line 66% and make the addition of PATH's capacity unnecessary.  Both PJM and PATH partners FirstEnergy and AEP tried to deny the proposal and insist that PATH was still necessary.   That was the beginning of the end for PATH.  The Virginia SCC got mighty suspicious and ordered PJM to re-run some data on the necessity for PATH if MSD was rebuilt.  Low and behold, the data showed that there really wasn't a need for PATH after all and PJM suspended (and later cancelled) the PATH project.  PATH withdrew all its project applications and went into hiding, after wasting a quarter billion dollars of consumer funding on the project.

Ahhh... good times!  :-)

Now FirstEnergy says "look at me!" and give me credit for modernizing the electric grid.

Kind of makes you wish that someone would drop a load of insulators on Toad's hard hat, doesn't it?


Oh, what would I do if I didn't have this little outlet...

 
 
Reports of mysterious explosions in the vicinity of Dominion Power's Mt. Storm - Doubs transmission line in Jefferson County, West Virginia, continue to upset local residents.

Rumors have begun circulating that Dominion's transmission rebuild project is actually only a front for a different, more sinister company objective recently initiated to help tide Dominion over during this period of ultra-low capacity prices in PJM.

The scuttlebutt is that Dominion's blasting is part of a company expedition to locate El Dorado, the mythical "lost city of gold."

Community notice before blasting could garner too many nosey neighbors that might try to lay claim to Dominion's hoped-for treasure, therefore, residents should remain in their homes and expect random explosions to continue to rock their world, and clear shelves of fragile items, until PJM's markets recover.
 
 
Zacks Investment Research sent a love note to our favorite transmission-dependent electric utilities on Valentine's Day.

In a commentary about the utilities sector, Zacks advised transmission lovers that they're about to become obsolete:
The emergence of Microgrids for power generation could threaten the dominance of the age-old power distribution system in the U.S. Microgrids have evolved from simple power backup systems to small smart grids. The swift and cost effective installation of Micro grids could help distribute electricity among the masses. These rooftop solar systems meet the energy needs of the customers. In addition, the customers are allowed to sell excess power back to the utilities.
A report from American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that utilities need to spend $763 billion by 2040 to properly modernize and harden the existing grids against natural disasters. We believe that rather than going for a very costly maintenance, it will be economical to develop these Microgrids, which could lend support to the existing system.
That's right, instead of building more transmission it will be more economical to develop more secure microgrids.

A microgrid is defined as:
A microgrid is a localized grouping of electricity generation, energy storage, and loads that normally operates connected to a traditional centralized grid (macrogrid). This single point of common coupling with the macrogrid can be disconnected. The microgrid can then function autonomously. Generation and loads in a microgrid are usually interconnected at low voltage. From the point of view of the grid operator, a connected microgrid can be controlled as if it were one entity.
Microgrid generation resources can include fuel cells, wind, solar, or other energy sources. The multiple dispersed generation sources and ability to isolate the microgrid from a larger network would provide highly reliable electric power. Produced heat from generation sources such as microturbines could be used for local process heating or space heating, allowing flexible trade off between the needs for heat and electric power.
Wow!  What a great idea, right?

Just one more warning shot across the investor owned electric utility bow.  Transmission is a dead end.  Save yourself, utility friends!  After all, if my favorite utilities die, who am I going to pick on in my spare time?
 
 
Frederick County Commissioner Billy Shreve is asking Potomac Edison to donate some land for a park; specifically, the 150-acre Browning Farm, where the utility was planning to build a substation for the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline.

He called it a win-win for First Energy and county citizens.
Frederick County citizens commenting on the article agree.  Potomac Edison has a lot of public image issues in Maryland right now stemming from the Maryland PSC's investigation of its billing and meter reading practices.

What do you think about the county's proposal?
 
 
Patience and I met two very delightful new friends today.  Hyosil Kim, a reporter for Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh, and her translator Brian Kim, spent the day with us touring Jefferson County and learning about PATH's spectacular, flaming failure to get its transmission project sited and permitted.

PATH's failure is interesting to the people of South Korea because they are engaged in their own furious battle with transmission developer Kepco over a 765kV line intended to export nuclear power out of the country.

The concept of social justice is being debated in Korea, just as it is here.  Why should any person have to sacrifice their home and well-being to serve the energy or environmental needs of others?

We took a fond trip down memory lane with many of our fellow PATH opponents during our tour of PATH's proposed route, recalling funny and touching moments during our successful David v. Goliath struggle to take control of our own energy future.

You'll be happy to know that the story of The Coalition for Reliable Power is just as funny when translated into Korean!


The message Hyosil will take back to Korea is encouragement for the people to persevere and refuse to give up!

We'll be posting a link to Hyosil's story here when it's written...
 
 
FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff recently told folks at an energy forum:

"So we need to do what we can to minimize those vulnerabilities by ensuring that we can isolate portions of each one of those interconnects," he said, adding that "there are physical security issues that certainly have to be dealt with. I think the biggest risk is potentially attacks on the system at those critical nodes."

What Wellinghoff describes is already being accomplished on a smaller scale with distributed generation and microgrids that can be islanded in the event of an emergency.

Smaller systems increase reliability because their flexibility allows them to continue to function when separated from the larger system.  This is because a microgrid is a complete and functional electric generation and distribution system that can stand alone.  It's a "mini-grid."

Microgrids can be connected to each other, as well as to the larger, centralized grid, however they may also be disconnected in event of emergency to prevent centralized problems from affecting their operation.

Our traditional centralized generation system for electricity relies entirely on the transmission/distribution system to function.  Any faults in the T&D system cause blackouts for end users because the fault causes this system to lose its generation component and become incapable of generating electricity for the end users.

Increased reliance on long haul transmission lines to distribute renewable energy thousands of miles from point of generation to point of use increases the risk of failure for end users.  The most reliable system is one where generation of electricity occurs as close to the point of use as possible.  Less wire, less risk of failure.

So while Wellinghoff's reasoning is sound, his application is short-sighted because it doesn't look beyond the traditional centralized generation grid.
 
 
Is the utility industry finally starting to admit that weak demand isn't strictly a product of the economy that will bounce back very soon?

The utilities have been telling their investors that demand is about to skyrocket at any second, although just recently a few of them have been pondering whether slow load growth may be the permanent effect of increased energy efficiency.

We've been telling them that for years, but apparently it took an equities research firm to drag the truth out of them. 

"Macquarie Equities Research said in a client note several days ago that energy efficiency measures really do seem to be having an impact on electricity demand, and the effect is likely to continue. It’s not just theoretical or wishful, the analysts said. “Unfortunately for investors,” the firm said, “utilities expect this demand destruction to continue or even accelerate.”

PJM used "the economy" as an excuse for cancelling the PATH and MAPP projects, but yet they refuse to consider decreased demand in their rush to construct the gold-plated Susquehanna Roseland transmission project.  As well, a hideous, uncoordinated snarl of new wind farms and transmission lines are proposed for the Midwest.  Is there really a market for all this new centralized generation and long distance transmission, or will hundreds of billions of dollars of new infrastructure end up rusting quietly in fields as more and more consumers decrease their usage through energy efficiency and drop off the grid altogether by deploying of their own small scale renewable generators?

The utilities who continue to deny permanent change to consumer demand and stick blindly with their 100-year old business plans of centralized generation and transmission will go belly up.  Those who welcome and embrace change and seek to develop a foothold in a distributed generation, consumers-as-producers future, will thrive.
 
 
See PJM's Transmission Expansion Advisory Committee Reliability Analysis Update for July 12, 2012.

PJM's PATH Project Analysis Update begins on page 9.  Page 12 says PATH is not needed for reliability reasons.

Under 15 year thermal test:
"No 500 kV potential thermal overloads identified."

Under MAAC Load Deliverability Voltage:
"CETL > CETO"

CETL stands for Capacity Emergency Transfer Limits and is the actual emergency import capability of the test area.

CETO stands for Capacity Emergency Transfer Objective and is the import capability required by an area to comply with a Transmission Risk of one event in 25 Years.

An area passes the deliverability test if its CETL is equal to or greater than its CETO.

So, how about it PJM, can we toss PATH onto the great scrap heap of failed transmission projects that have cost consumers millions without providing any benefit now?

Oh no, not yet!  PJM still has one more test to run, the N-1-1  power flow modeling test, which they say will be completed before the next TEAC meeting on August 9.

N-1-1 means they look at every combination of two separate – one after the other - transmission line outages throughout PJM to make sure PATH really isn't needed after all.  Not only are PJM's N-1-1 scenarios highly unlikely to ever occur, but they defy common sense.  If a grid-killing disaster happens (derecho, anyone?) that takes out two separate transmission lines, who's to say that said disaster won't also take out the PATH Project, or any other transmission line they propose as a backup?  As we've all found out over the past couple of weeks, a "robust" transmission system is only as good as the distribution system that brings the power to your home or business.  And as a group of Consumer Organizations pointed out to FERC last month, transmission incentives are pulling investment away from the distribution system.

The good news from today's TEAC meeting is that if the analysis continues to show that the PATH and MAPP lines are not needed, the TEAC will recommend to the PJM Board that the projects be dropped from the RTEP (and no longer held in abeyance).

Thank you, PJM Magic 8 ball!