Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Grid Operator Says: We Need Vermont Yankee for Reliability.

The 2013 Power Auction

About a year ago, the New England Grid operator, ISO-NE, had a forward power auction for electricity supplies in 2013. Vermont Yankee, unsure of its future, tried to drop out of the auction.

ISO-NE would not let Vermont Yankee drop out of the auction. ISO-NE can't ensure that Vermont Yankee is operating past 2012, but they insisted Vermont Yankee stay in the auction. This puzzled me, and I finally figured it out. You can read my extensive blog post, but the bottom line is:
  1. Without Vermont Yankee, the grid would become unreliable.
  2. When grid reliability looks like it is going down the tubes, ISO-NE must take action: it must order diesel generators, arrange for transmission line upgrades, etc.
  3. These steps would mean millions of dollars of expense, and ISO doesn't want to start the process unless they have to.
  4. So ISO had Vermont Yankee stay in the auction, therefore avoiding grid expense that may not be necessary.

I hope Vermont got the message.

Yesterday, the 2014 Auction: Vermont Yankee is Needed

If Vermont didn't get the message: this is another year, another auction, and the same message again.

Yesterday ISO-NE announced the results of the 2014 forward auction. Once again, ISO refused to let Vermont Yankee drop out of the mix. This time, the story was even more dramatic, in my opinion. According to Reuters, ISO received 201 requests to de-list (withdraw) from the auction. ISO granted 200 of these requests, representing about 1170 MW of capacity. It found that these withdrawals would not affect grid stability.

However, it did not grant one request to withdraw: Vermont Yankee. ISO found that Vermont Yankee withdrawal would affect grid stability and Vermont Yankee had to stay in the auction. As the Reuter's article continues: To prepare the grid, the ISO said it was working with power transmission owners to develop short-term "special operating plans" and long-term transmission upgrades in case the reactor does not continue to operate.

Do you remember the short-term "special operating plans" ISO implemented in Connecticut? Lots of diesels. I hope we can avoid this in Vermont.

ISO-NE is Sending Vermont a Message

Vermont Yankee is a unique plant, with an important role in stabilizing the grid. Closing it down will lead to unpleasant consequences of grid instability such as voltage drop, unplanned outages, or rolling blackouts.

California Dreaming

On the radio today, I was asked what "grid instability" really meant. It can mean brownouts, sudden blackouts, or rolling blackouts. Since I lived through the rolling blackouts (and other weird voltage stuff) in California, I was able to answer from personal experience.

For me, rolling blackouts meant you want to own a home near a police station or hospital. The grid managers kept such areas safe from blackouts. People who had houses for sale would advertise "home in hospital-protected block." Actually, there was a power-company code number for such areas, I think it was 728 or 528 or something. So the ad would look like this: 3/2, rdwd deck w spa, 728 pwr.

Ah, the good old days! (sarcasm alert) I didn't live in a protected area, so I lived with the fear and the reality of sudden, two-hour power shutoffs. Nobody would tell you in advance where they were shutting off the power, for fear of looters and criminals flocking around.

We forget how much electricity adds to public safety. Until someone shuts it off.

Though Enron was partially to blame for the California shortages, California's botched deregulation was also to blame. Enron couldn't have done its manipulations if the fundamentals of the California grid had been stronger.

Let's not be California. Let's not compromise our grid.

ISO-NE is sending Vermont a message for the second year in a row. I hope we are smart enough to get it.

The grid needs Vermont Yankee.

Transmission Line from Wikimedia.


Nate said...

"Without Vermont Yankee, the grid would become unreliable."
If you guys want to convince the public you'll have to come up with other tactics that don't include threats.
My point would be in a economy where the cost of energy is more accurately reflected,we won't have cable boxes that waste as much energy as a fridge
NYT:A $3 billion dollar annual electric bill,due to American cable TV boxes http://nyti.ms/ixA4yr

Robert Hargraves said...

Remind me about the newly installed transmission line from Vermont Yankee to the north. Is that to import power to the Vernon site to be redistributed radially from there when/if Vermont Yankkee closes?

Meredith Angwin said...

Nate. I am all for conservation. I don't own a TV or have cable (though I do use my computer a fair amount, with a DSL connection.) I serve on my town Energy Commission and we delamp street lights. Etc.

That said, if you think it is a "threat" to report on what the grid operator has said about Vermont Yankee and grid reliability, that perception is completely your problem, not mine.

The grid operator is reporting reality. Rhetoric (reporting about the grid operator equals making a threat) always ends up bowing to reality. Reality holds all the trump cards.

A Davis said...

The grid operator (ISO New England) has now decided (May 21, 2012) that VY is not needed for grid reliability. Now VY has two main strategies remaining: Keep on repeating that nuclear power is cheap and clean and suggest that the local economy will not survive a shutdown. Perhaps both of these will go the same way as the claim that VY is necessary for grid reliability. I totally agree that reporting reality is the way to go.