Monday, December 30, 2013

Building Blackouts

Ice is the alleged culprit that forced many of Toronto's buildings into darkness over the past week; water the alleged culprit for the blackouts this summer.  Both ice and water served as triggers, but the systemic weakness that allowed for extended outages was created over many years, by fashionable politics cancelling intelligent policy, and the acquiescence of a deliberately weak regulator in allowing poor government initiatives to take precedence over providing value to consumers.
You never want a serious crisis to go to waste...
Things that we had postponed for too long, that were long-term, are now immediate and must be dealt with.
  - Rahm Emanuel
There's no shortage of lobbyists looking to take advantage of this crisis, but perhaps the best outcome would be to find the body/bodies most responsible for the fragility of the current system, and address the deficiencies there.

Toronto Hydro seems an obvious target, and I assume their staunchest critics will evaluate their performance/responsibility - as they should.
I submit the problems go far beyond the local distributor, and that the regulator bears an enormous responsibility for taking away from the Christmas of many Torontonians.

Toronto Hydro, which took far longer than it's first 72 hour estimate at getting many households powered again, has been seeking rate increases from the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) for years:
Toronto Hydro will be asking the Ontario Energy Board to reconsider a request to increase hydro rates, which was turned down earlier this month...
Toronto Hydro wanted to present its case for raising monthly hydro rates by an average of $5 a household to pay for infrastructure improvements totalling $1.5-billion over the next three years.
...upgrades are necessary to bring Toronto's grid up to modern standards.
 -Jan 2012
The OEB has been prepared to hit Ontario's consumers with any idiotic initiative from Queen's Park, but loathe to allow rate hikes requested from the bodies that generate (OPG) and deliver electricity.

The rate request from Toronto Hydro was turned down, which prompted a news release from the company:
... the OEB has cut the capital budget by approximately 65 per cent. This has far reaching ramifications that will impact not only customer service, safety and reliability, but employees within the utility and other industries and suppliers.
...will result in the reduction of its capital spending to a level that will not enable the company to adequately maintain and renew Toronto's aging distribution system. This will likely result in deteriorating service, an increase in power outages, an increased risk to public safety, slower call centre response times...
The OEB has displayed a concern for employee costs it has not displayed in other costs areas - and to understand the weakness of a regulator that could submit the province's capital, and main economic hub, to poor electricity service, a trip back to the days of professional electricity sector planning is necessary.

The Ontario Power Authority (OPA) was created, in 2005, to develop strategies for Ontario's electricity sector, and the heart of their mandate was the development of an Integrated Power System Plan (IPSP).  The star attraction of system planning in Ontario has long been generation - from hydro, to nuclear, to the Green Energy Act - but the IPSP also dealt with transmission issues.

"Downtown Toronto is City J and is in the high load category"
From 2007's IPSP (with emphasis added):
Hydro One submitted to the OPA a benchmark study of major North American cities, conducted by Utility System Efficiencies Inc. that compares Downtown Toronto with the downtown transmission grids in those cities.  The study shows that other major cities recognize the need for redundancy and incorporate designs which reduce the risk of  prolonged interruptions for the loss of a major supply point.
...other major cities recognize the importance of providing sufficient supply points in downtown areas to mitigate high impact events especially in older systems. The study notes:
There are operating concerns and other factors to consider, as well, when determining what is adequate to serve the load. There has been a growing trend of partial or total blackouts in major cities in North America due in part to aging infrastructure, unavailability of equipment and operating equipment at higher ratings due to continued load growth without corresponding growth in the supply facilities. It is also necessary to consider the flexibility of the transmission and distribution system to allow outages for the refurbishment of aging facilities. These issues, together with the direct and indirect impact of outages, need to be considered when making plans for capital investment. 
The IPSP project was never followed through on.  The first IPSP was just getting to the Ontario Energy Board for vetting when the Green Energy Act killed it.  A subsequent IPSP, in 2011, was buried, before an election, and has yet to resurface.

Late in 2012, Hurricane Sandy would bring down sections of the grid in the United States for long periods of time.  One outcome of the storm is that it brought to the fore a simmering discussion about the merits of a strong grid, in relation to the smart grid catch phrase that an easily enchanted Ontario's distribution companies, enabled by witless policians and a weak regulator, have spent so heavily on (to falsely inflate equity in distribution companies enabling/entitling them to collect higher rates).  
The Obama administration recently changed its nomenclature on a topic of much interest to readers of this publication and those in the power industry. The administration has said it prefers to talk about its policies advancing a “resilient grid” as opposed to its previous emphasis on developing a “smart grid.” The new policy thrust, for whatever it’s worth, is “grid hardening.”     - POWER magazine
Had the OEB been as interested in getting value for the dollar on meter spending as it is in pension plan costs, Ontario may have already looked at emphasizing resiliency and strength, instead of running contests for an app to control fridge temperature with a "smart" meter.

The enemies of intelligent planning are many - and, in the Toronto area, one incentive to mindlessly oppose everything is electability.  Peter Tabuns, currently the energy critic for the NDP, rode to election opposing construction of the Portland Energy Centre (built on an existing generating site).
Liberal Members of Provincial Parliament have opposed their own local gas plant projects - the biggest punishment for doing so being hung on Mississauga South Charles Sousa, who was sentenced to serve as Premier Wynne's Finance Minister.

Opposition to more secure transmission lines is at a level beyond mere party politics.  A core alliance of nominally environmental groups, and natural gas lobbyists, opposes everything which could be interpreted as facilitating the delivery of electricity from nuclear generating stations to the urban areas populated with those so intolerable of local generatiion.

There is no shortage of entities to blame for Toronto's fragile grid: the government; the regulator; the green/gas alliance, and the residents.

A very positive step towards a better electricity system would be rewriting the Ontario Energy Board Act to remove the fashionable nonsense naming guiding responsibilities as 'conservation and demand management", "implementation of a smart grid" and the direction "To promote the use and generation of electricity from renewable energy sources..."  

The OEB can be responsible to electricity generators and consumers, or to the government.  It is not likely they can do both.  
The system operator (IESO) forecasts 2557MW of industrial wind turbine capacity will be added to its grid within 18 months, along with 280MW of solar - the same document implies another 800MW of solar capacity will be embedded with local distribution companies.  While Ontario is not expected to need any addtional capacity until 2018 (even of the reliable type), this is set to add ~$1.55 billion a year to bills in Ontario.
The cost of hardening Ontario's capital's grid (wherever that ends up being) is not as significant as the money being wasted.

There has been no economic testing of government directed stupidity - and the foolish spending is now taking it's value toll, both in higher consumers bills and lower quality of service.

Suggestion on restructuring the mandate of the OEB should be included in a new Integrated Power System Plan - which every responsible MPP should be clamouring for following the political document which appeared in December, masquerading as a long term energy plan.

No comments:

Post a Comment