FERC & NERC released their report on the cause of the Sept. 2011 SoCal blackout the other day. The report found that the blackout was caused by operator error and lack of planning. It had NOTHING to do with the age or number of high voltage transmission lines. That comes as no surprise to us, however it may come as a big surprise to industry, who tried to use the blackout as justification for the building of new transmission lines.
Building new transmission lines diverts available utility capital from the existing system upgrades and maintenance that will prevent future blackouts. Because of federal rate incentives, new transmission has become a profit center for investor owned utilities. They can earn more on the same dollar when it is invested in a new line than they can by investing that same dollar in performing maintenance and/or improvement to the existing transmission grid. Investor greed (and the fact that IOU decisions are profit-driven) has made our grid unstable and subject to widespread blackouts. The industry wants you to believe that we need to build more transmission to stabilize the grid because that meme garners more profits. The building of new transmission projects, while allowing our existing grid to crumble and fail, is like cutting a hole and installing a brand new window right next to a broken one, instead of simply repairing the window by replacing the broken pane. Which repair do you think is more expensive? FERC & NERC proved this with their investigation and report/recommendations. They found:
"The September 8, 2011, event showed that the system was not being operated in a secure N-1 state. This failure stemmed primarily from weaknesses in two broad areas—operations planning and real-time situational awareness—which, if done properly, would have allowed system operators to proactively operate the system in a secure N-1 state during normal system conditions and to restore the system to a secure N-1 state as soon as possible, but no longer than 30 minutes."
FERC and NERC also compared the 2011 blackout to the 2003 blackout and determined that they were of vastly similar fault:
"Although the August 2003 and September 2011 blackouts were triggered by different initiating events—tree touches in 2003 compared to a switching error in 2011—both blackouts had common underlying causes. First, affected entities in both events did not conduct adequate long-term and operations planning studies necessary to understand vulnerabilities on their systems. Second, affected entities in both events had inadequate situational awareness leading up to and during the disturbances. In addition to these two underlying causes, both events were exacerbated by protection system relays that tripped facilities without allowing operators sufficient time to take mitigating measures. These similarities are highlighted below, with excerpts from both reports to illustrate specific comparisons."
However, even FERC has been guilty of using the 2003 blackout as a driver for new transmission projects. As you can see, it just isn't logical. So, the next time you see some industry shyster or coal-fired caveman use blackouts as proof of the need for new transmission lines, feel free to reference FERC & NERC's report... and use the broken window analogy.