Baseload Extinction?

Antique illustration of Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis)

As you must have noted, I am becoming increasingly concerned about today’s attitudes toward grid reliability and resiliency we have long taken for granted.  Steve Mitnick at Public Utilities Fortnightly just offered a series of quotes from regulators across the country about recent transitions that included one from Bill Russell, Chair of the Wyoming PSC.

“How many big spinners can we lose before grid failures increase when the system is stressed?  I’m concerned we may regret shutting down too many baseload plants because we failed to think it through.  I’m reminded of an old fable: Consider the Auk who became extinct because it forgot how to fly and could only walk.”

So, I went online to learn about the Great Auk which I must admit I did not know ever existed.  Indeed it was a prevalent member of the penguin family.  It was “easy prey” for sailors being a big meaty bird that wasn’t very mobile.

Sorry … doesn’t this all seem way too good an analogy.

This should also be a wake up call for all PSC and PUC staff and leaders.  Be careful what you wish for.  Once the Auks in our world are extinct, your job may be as well.

Risk Perception

Photo Courtesy Utility Dive

I grew up in New York City and got used to seeing very interesting people yelling

at me from street corners telling me this or that.  It was pretty easy to dismiss most of this as just the quirky nature of individuals.

One that was humorous was a guy standing at the entry to a subway station snapping his fingers over and over again.  I asked him why he did that and he told me that it kept tigers away.  After I stated that, as far as I knew, there were no tigers in New York City.  To which he stated: “works pretty dang well, now doesn’t it?”

The perception of risk is an elusive attribute.  Engineers like myself are extremely sensitive to things that can go wrong.  It is what we are trained to do, and trained how to avoid that, all of which comes at a cost.  But, at times we can appear to be a bit like fear mongers.  Or, as my wife likes to call me: Dr. Doom!!

Fair enough, but what drives us is avoiding things like those that just happened to Pacific Gas and Electric.  Read about it here if you didn’t catch it already.

But, before things like this happen, it is almost impossible to get management to pay attention to risks like this.

Afterwards, it may be too late.

This also reminds me of the placards I would see when I grew up:  The End is Near!!  So far, that appears to be have been untrue.  One can only hope it is untrue for PG&E.


The Invisible Hand

Advocates of free market design have fallen in love with “that invisible  hand” long attributed to Adam Smith to describe the natural force that guides free market capitalism through  competition for scarce resources. According to Adam Smith, in a free market each participant will try to maximize self-interest, and the interaction of market participants, leading to exchange of goods and services, enables each participant to be better of than when simply producing for himself/herself. He further said that in a free market, no regulation of any type would be needed to ensure that the mutually beneficial exchange of goods and services took place, since this “invisible hand” would guide market participants to trade in the most mutually beneficial manner.

Well, that invisible hand can also “slap you upside your face” as they would say in the South.  Here is an eloquent statement about how nuclear power has fallen to the market theories without consideration of deeper and more important collateral responsibilities.

Read what Power Magazine has to say. 

Gee … we don’t trust the invisible hand with solar or wind but we are willing to trust it on nuclear … and perhaps even hydro?

The key in my opinion is this:  Crane said, “One thing I know is when we shut a nuclear plant down, it’s never coming back. Today, the way the markets are designed—New England, PJM—they do not take fuel diversity and resiliency into the capacity market design to the level that needs to be to maintain the resiliency of the system.”

Seems like a clear slap in the face to me.