Cable Help | Grid Safety | Cyber Violators | Tax Exemption | Weather Power Demand


Help for Island’s cable work in state budget

Disaster recovery costs incurred by Washington Island Electric Cooperative as a result of last June’s submarine power cable failure would be mitigated by a $2 million appropriation in Governor Tony Evers’ biennial budget bill, if the provision survives the amendment process.

As introduced, the bill calls for $1 million in state assistance to the recovery effort in each year of the state’s 2019–2021 fiscal biennium.

Discussions involving the Washington Island co-op, the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association, area legislators, and the Governor’s office took place over several weeks. At the end of February, State Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) and State Sen. Andre` Jacque (R-De Pere) formally requested the assistance in a letter to Evers.

Total costs arising from the incident exceed $4 million, the lawmakers wrote, telling Evers they were “committed to helping lead a bipartisan, multi-organizational effort” supporting state help for the island community.

Less-connected grid would be safer, senator says

U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME) is promoting legislation to fund a study of how electric grid security might be strengthened by eliminating some digital systems and substituting physical systems that aren’t vulnerable to a cyberattack.

King’s proposal has bipartisan support and passed in the Senate during the previous Congress but wasn’t taken up by the House of Representatives.

The proposal embodies the idea that the sophistication of the U.S. grid works against its safety through excessive reliance on digital systems that hackers can infiltrate. A recent Washington Post story recalled a 2015 cyberattack blamed on Russian hackers that shut down large parts of the Ukrainian grid.

King noted that the Ukrainian power providers were able to switch to manual operations and restored service within hours, whereas experts fear a major cyberattack on the U.S. grid might shut off power for a far greater length of time.

Identify cyber violators, group asks FERC

Federal regulators have been formally petitioned to end their practice of protecting the identities of regulated companies sanctioned for violating cybersecurity standards.

Public Citizen, the self-styled public interest research and advocacy organization, filed documents with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), calling for confirmation that Duke Energy is the utility that agreed to pay a $10 million fine—the largest penalty ever assessed against a cybersecurity violator—after it was found to have committed 127 violations over a three-year period beginning in 2015.

A Notice of Penalty was submitted January 25 by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) for FERC approval. Documents enumerating the violations were published, but with extensive redactions making identification of the offending utility difficult at best.

NERC said 13 of the violations created “serious” risk to the U.S. bulk electricity system and more than 60 posed “moderate” risk.

Public Citizen’s petition said “Keeping the public in the dark about the cybersecurity track record of our electric utilities may create a false sense of security and reduce the likelihood of more public awareness and vigilance needed to protect cybersecurity.”

Last year, Public Citizen filed a similar petition with FERC, seeking the identity of a utility that had been assessed a then-record $2.7 million fine for cybersecurity violations. That utility was later reported to have been Pacific Gas and Electric.

Full-year gas, electricity sales-tax exemption proposed

Legislation set for introduction last month would eliminate the Wisconsin sales tax on natural gas and electricity for residential use.

Residential gas and electricity purchases are already sales-tax exempt during the cold-weather months. The new proposal would delete the specified exemption for the months of November through April so the language that remains would exempt “electricity and natural gas sold for residential use” without limiting the tax break by time of year.

The primary authors are State Senator Andre` Jacque (R-De Pere) and State Rep. Timothy Ramthun (R-Campbellsport).

In a memo soliciting cosponsors, the two noted that Wisconsin’s residential electricity rates are higher than national and regional averages and that “energy taxes themselves are also among the more regressive forms of taxation, as energy costs take up a significantly higher percentage of household budgets for lower income families than those with higher incomes.”

At press time no fiscal estimate was yet available. For a similar bill in 2011, the Department of Revenue estimated state and local governments would forego annual revenues of $81.5 million and $6.5 million respectively.

EIA: Cold-weather power demand short of record

The extreme cold of the polar vortex at the end of January triggered very high electricity demand on the MISO (Midcontinent Independent System Operator) grid but fell short of matching the record set when the vortex delivered slightly less-cold temperatures in January 2014, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports.
Natural gas usage reached estimated records but gas prices did not, the EIA said.

Despite the ongoing shift in the generation fuel mix, on January 30, the coldest day of the period—which the EIA said was “significantly colder” overall than either of two other recent cold events—coal met about 41 percent of MISO’s electricity demand while natural gas met about 30 percent, according to the EIA.

Natural gas provided roughly the same percentage during January 2018’s so-called “bomb cyclone” while coal supplied more power than this year, 45-50 percent, the EIA said, adding that during the 2014 polar vortex, coal use was substantially higher, supplying more than 50 percent of load while natural gas ranged from 10-25 percent.

Nuclear supplied 12-15 percent of load during all three winter events. Wind ranged from 1 percent to 13 percent during the previous two events and about 5 percent on January 30 this year, the EIA said, noting that wind generation dropped off late January 29 as wind facilities ran up against their cold weather cutoff thresholds.