Former Bayfield manager passes
Carl Melchiors, who retired as general manager of Bayfield Electric Cooperative in January 2012, died at his home in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, on the night of April 2. He was 74.
Melchiors began his tenure with Bayfield Electric in December 1987 and held the manager’s post for 24 years. His electric industry career began in the 1960s, as a lineman with the Menasha municipal utility. He left that job to earn an engineering degree at the University of Wisconsin and, while a student, came to work for the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association (then named Wisconsin Electric Cooperative) as an engineering associate. His first task there was to assist in mapping the Bayfield Electric Co-op system.
He became a consulting engineer with Power System Engineering in 1974, remained there until returning to Menasha Utilities for a five-year stint beginning in 1981, and served for a year with the Oconomowoc municipal electric utility until becoming the general manager at Bayfield Electric.
Another warning on baseload retirements
The northeastern United States would have been unable to meet heightened electrical demand during the past winter’s polar vortex episode without substantial help from baseload fossil and nuclear power plants now under threat of early retirement because of economic factors, yet another analysis has concluded.
The Energy Department’s National Energy Technology Laboratory in mid-March issued a report saying its survey of six regional grid operators found that fossil-fueled and nuclear plants provided 89 percent of all the electricity generated at peak demand during two weeks of bitter cold weather from last December 27 through January 8.
Power demand spiked during the cold snap, rising 20 percent above typical levels on the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) grid that serves Wisconsin, and even more—from 23 to 28 percent—in the Northeast.
In New England, surging natural gas demand for home heating and pipeline constraints combined to shift electric generation sharply toward less-clean burning fuel oil, “barely enabling” the regional grid to meet demand, the report said.
Wind and solar generation plummeted during the critical period, falling 19 percent below normal levels in the MISO region, the report said.
While the most recent report focused on concerns about additional baseload plant retirements, a January study by the New England regional grid operator warned that winter blackouts across the area could be expected within a half-dozen years without gas pipeline upgrades.
Power sales down in ‘17
Retail electricity sales in the United States declined by 80 billion kilowatt-hours last year, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), which said last month the number represented the biggest year-to-year reduction since the economic recession in 2009.
Large as the decline was in terms of electricity volume, it only brought total sales down by 2 percent compared with the prior year. Lower retail sales were recorded across the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors and were “largely attributable to milder weather,” the EIA said.
The agency explained that air-conditioning usage is a major driver of electricity demand, and that cooling degree-days were 9 percent lower in 2017 than in 2016, “indicating a cooler summer and less demand for air conditioning.”
The residential sector accounted for more than 37 percent of total sales from the grid in 2017, compared with slightly less than 37 percent for the commercial sector and about 26 percent for the industrial sector, the EIA said. The agency is a division of the Department of Energy.
Cyber attack hits pipeline companies
In mid-March, the Department of Homeland Security warned that Russian hackers have been attempting to penetrate computer systems of the U.S. electric grid. By the end of the month, at least four U.S. gas pipeline companies had their ability to communicate electronically with customers interrupted in what three of the companies called a cyber attack.
The affected pipeline companies have facilities serving areas from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast.
No gas deliveries were interrupted but the interference with the electronic communication systems—which in some cases lasted more than three days—complicated customers and operators talking with each other about needs.
So far, cyber criminals are not believed to have been able to gain access to industrial control systems; government and industry officials say they’re stepping up efforts to harden such systems against attacks.
Federal rescue for merchant fleet complicated, doubtful
A restructured merchant generating company born of 1990s electric deregulation filed March 31 for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, two days after asking the Department of Energy (DOE) for an emergency order guaranteeing cost recovery for its financially-ailing coal and nuclear plants.
On March 29, FirstEnergy Solutions advised regional grid operator PJM Interconnection it would retire three nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and applied for a DOE order directing PJM to “begin negotiations to secure the long-term capacity” of the company’s coal and nuclear units, citing “a serious threat to the stability of the electric grid.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has directed regional grid operators to propose wholesale market revisions to preserve baseload generation assets for reliability purposes.