Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Midwest power grid erratic

Concerns raised earlier about NE linkup request

By Brad Foss
The Associated Press

Long before swaths of Canada and the Northeast were darkened by power failures, federal regulators and industry officials - including a Cinergy Services executive - raised red flags about the reliability of service in the Midwest, where the blackout originated and oversight of the grid is fractured.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission expressed concerns more than a year ago when several Midwestern utilities asked to join a Northeastern power pool rather than the local equivalent, a move that could make managing the flow of electricity and information there - and with neighboring regions - more difficult.

The fundamental problem that worried FERC in the Midwest is actually more widespread, the result of a nationwide power network that has been interconnected piece by piece over decades, leaving weaknesses and gaps in controlling the grid.

"Things are not one size fits all," said Jay Apt, executive director of the Electricity Industry Center at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Regulators' concern in the Midwest arose when several utilities, including American Electric Power, Dayton Power & Light and Commonwealth Edison, sought participation in the PJM Interconnection of Norristown, Pa.

FERC commissioners questioned whether the region would be better served if these power providers joined the nascent local grid operator, the Midwest Independent Service Operator. Usually, regional transmission organizations are arranged by geography. But in this model, more than one regional group would operate in a given territory.

"The problem here is that they literally overlap each other," said Frank Gaffney, consultant at the engineering firm RW Beck in Orlando, Fla.

Some Midwestern energy executives also concluded the market would be better served with just one agency in charge of overseeing it.

Ronald Jackups, vice president of electric system operations for Cinergy Services, a unit of Cincinnati's Cinergy Corp., expressed just such concerns in an affidavit filed with FERC July 2, 2002.

Allowing the Midwest utilities to join the Pennsylvania-based operation would create "a patchwork of companies with a very long, complex seam," Jackups wrote, referring to the area where electricity moves from the control of one grid operator to another.

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