Run it 'til the wheels fall off - load shedding and mismanagement, a warning story

OVERKILL

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Was sent this by a good friend of mine this AM. He was on the phone with his son, who indicated that he had to leave his apartment because there was a two hour planned power cut. This apparently happens twice a day. When asked why this was happening, he was linked to this story, which I just finished reading. This discusses the sequence of profit-driven momentously stupid decisions made that decimated the core generator fleet, resulting in soaring unreliability and tanking availability, all of which was completely avoidable. Compounded by meddling from two private consulting firms who slash-and-burned their way to their "cut" of temporarily increased profits, while leaving the utility even more destitute and in more dire condition than when they arrived.

The story leads early on with a statement claiming that, to counteract this precipitous decline, the utility has been ordered to invest in massive amounts of wind and solar, which will of course do nothing to solve the core issues with their baseload fleet, which will still be required to backstop that capacity, and be flexible in doing so.

There are certainly some parallels that could be drawn with PG&E in California, though they benefit from having a very wealthy ratepayer base, while Eskom's is steeped in poverty, so this very much becomes an exercise in trying to ring blood from a stone. It would seem that at the executive level, there is some form of contagious megalomania that overwhelms somebody once they are at the helm.

1664374925790.png


There are also some parallels that can be drawn between what happened in South Africa during the 90's and what happened globally, around that same time period. At this time, Eskom was the "top utility" in the world. Here in Ontario, Ontario Hydro was experiencing a similar exposure to politically-driven "slash-and-burn", formally called "soft path", ideology (which hinged somewhat on the conservation nonsense pushed by Lovins and company) that operated under the premise that these utilities were all grossly over-funded and that tremendous amounts of money could be saved by removing it from their budgets while offloading the responsibility for any sort of deficit to the population, who would be "encouraged" to conserve; to "save energy", which would also eliminate the requirement for investing in new capacity.

In Ontario, the immediate result of this was the massively declining performance of our nuclear fleet that resulted in 8 units getting laid-up, their output replaced by cheaper to run coal plants. Ultimately, Ontario Hydro would be broken-up with the intent of privatization, our largest nuke spun-off to a private company, and a generator fleet that took more than a decade to recover from this abuse.

Unfortunately, South Africa did not fare as well, and neither did California. We of course all remember the Enron scandal.

And there were casualties. SONGS would get shutdown in California, Pickering would lose units 2 and 3 here in Ontario.

Environmentalists at the time would use the results of this abject decimation to claim that these facilities were unreliable and call for more investment in wind and solar. This framing continues today in Australia with an aging and under-maintained coal fleet (as @Shannow can comment on) getting held up by VRE advocates as "proof" that coal is unreliable and they need to invest billions in renewables and transmission.


As we look for demand to markedly increase in the coming decade with the global push for electrification, I think it important to consider that Eksom's problems may be a harbinger for other grids/utilities who have under-invested in their core infrastructure, too busy chasing REC's and tokenism.
 
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There's no economic incentive to build extra capacity, in fact there is a dis-incentive since excess supply drives prices lower. Building a plant to sit idle most of the time just in case another one breaks down would be a very bad business move. Consumers will always find that Just Enough electric capacity exists to meet the demand of what can be sold. Naturally this will expand to meet new markets such as electric cars, but occasional shortages are going to remain.
 
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OVERKILL

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There's no economic incentive to build extra capacity, in fact there is a dis-incentive since excess supply drives prices lower. Building a plant to sit idle most of the time just in case another one breaks down would be a very bad business move. Consumers will always find that Just Enough electric capacity exists to meet the demand of what can be sold. Naturally this will expand to meet new markets such as electric cars, but occasional shortages are going to remain.
In a market-style system, you are absolutely correct. But, back in the day with vertically integrated publicly owned utilities, extra capacity was kept around for exactly these sort of reasons.

Yesterday, Alberta issued an EEA3 (Emergency Energy Alert, Level 3, the highest possible, which includes load shedding). In the fall, the lowest demand season, because they had an interconnect down for maintenance, the wind crapped the bed, like it does, and it was unusually hot and they didn't have enough power. That's what running the ragged edge of supply nets.
1664403559138.png


Yesterday, Ontario demand peaked at 16,300MW. This was met with 9,100MW of nuclear, 4.600MW of hydro and we happened to have 2,400MW of wind available, so gas peaked at 1,600MW of 10,500MW. We had probably about 12,000MW of reserve capacity available. This is what that looked like for the gas plants:
Screen Shot 2022-09-28 at 6.20.22 PM.png


That's because Ontario, despite participating in "the market" still has most of their generation capacity publicly owned. The capacity factor for Lennox, which is a massive 2.14GW gas/oil plant, was 1.5% in 2017. It idles almost all year, "just in case".

Things are similar in Quebec, which has 46,380MW of installed capacity, but for most of the year, uses about half that. Again, publicly owned utility.
Screen Shot 2022-09-28 at 6.28.52 PM.png


What's quite interesting is that these grids that have excess capacity, do no have, as a rule, more expensive electricity. Quebec has the cheapest power in Canada, and Ontario is MUCH cheaper than many US states.
 
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OVERKILL

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So, a rather predictable extension of the above story:

South Africa’s homes and businesses are routinely left without power for up to 10 hours a day as years of under-investment have left electricity monopoly Eskom struggling to meet demand. While it mostly relies on coal-fuelled power, Eskom is hoping to extend the lifespan of the 40-year-old Koeberg station, the only nuclear plant in Africa, by 20 years. The licence is due to expire in 2024-2025. André de Ruyter, Eskom’s chief executive, told South African legislators this week that Koeberg’s extension project had been “extremely poorly managed” with delays and escalation of costs beyond an estimated R20bn ($1.1bn). The utility declined to give a new figure.

This is a plant built by Framatome, so it's an EDF/Framatome product, quite well regarded, strong safety and reliability record. But, as we are seeing in France, you neglect your plants because the Greens want to phase out a large chunk of them to reduce the nuclear share, reversal on that neglect takes time, and costs money. Given the corruption plaguing Eskom, it was no surprise to read that this has impacted the upgrade and life extension work at their nuclear plant, given what had been going on with the coal assets.

Hopefully they get the project completed. Ugh.
 
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There is a much simpler answer - greed and corruption. Look no further than South Carolina. You likely know the story of our utility tried to build a reactor but after being 3X over budget and not even close to finished, it bankrupt the utility. What you may not know is the state decided to be the general contractor for their public utility in a pay as you go scheme, rather than hire someone to build it and pay when its running. The governor veto'd the project - said it was a bad idea. His own party over-rode his veto. This only happens if pockets are being lined.

So our formerly great and efficient utility was handed over to Dominion Energy. Most people have no clue any of this even happened.

Full story: https://theintercept.com/2019/02/06/south-caroline-green-new-deal-south-carolina-nuclear-energy/
 
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So our formerly great and efficient utility was handed over to Dominion Energy. Most people have no clue any of this even happened.

AKA "Virginia Power".

Virginia Power, Dominion Power, Dominion Energy, whatever they call themselves, sucks.

There's a spot on US15 on a Dominion line where there's 5 automatic splices in a row, because the line has apparently broken due to the trees which Dominion won't trim, and that's happened 5 times. And the last 3 times nobody thought to remove some of the splices and use a longer piece of line. (Automatic splices can fail).

When we first moved to Virginia in 1988, new house---power went out EVERY SINGLE TIME IT RAINED. And Virginia Power took at least an hour or more to get the power back on.

This continued till at least 1995 when they built another subdivision across the street. Probably accidentally fixed the problem with the changes needed for that subdivision.

A real utility, as opposed to this Virginia joke, would have fixed the problem instead of replacing the fuse the 30 or 40 times it was probably replaced over that 7 year period.

There are other examples of how bad they are.
 
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There is a much simpler answer - greed and corruption. Look no further than South Carolina. You likely know the story of our utility tried to build a reactor but after being 3X over budget and not even close to finished, it bankrupt the utility. What you may not know is the state decided to be the general contractor for their public utility in a pay as you go scheme, rather than hire someone to build it and pay when its running. The governor veto'd the project - said it was a bad idea. His own party over-rode his veto. This only happens if pockets are being lined.

So our formerly great and efficient utility was handed over to Dominion Energy. Most people have no clue any of this even happened.

Full story: https://theintercept.com/2019/02/06/south-caroline-green-new-deal-south-carolina-nuclear-energy/
Dominion could have built that plant, they built the Surry VA plant close to me.
 
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AKA "Virginia Power".

Virginia Power, Dominion Power, Dominion Energy, whatever they call themselves, sucks.

There's a spot on US15 on a Dominion line where there's 5 automatic splices in a row, because the line has apparently broken due to the trees which Dominion won't trim, and that's happened 5 times. And the last 3 times nobody thought to remove some of the splices and use a longer piece of line. (Automatic splices can fail).

When we first moved to Virginia in 1988, new house---power went out EVERY SINGLE TIME IT RAINED. And Virginia Power took at least an hour or more to get the power back on.

This continued till at least 1995 when they built another subdivision across the street. Probably accidentally fixed the problem with the changes needed for that subdivision.

A real utility, as opposed to this Virginia joke, would have fixed the problem instead of replacing the fuse the 30 or 40 times it was probably replaced over that 7 year period.

There are other examples of how bad they are.
I have to opposite experience as you. I have lived in my Dominion supplied house (above ground wires) for 31 years. I can count the number of times I've lost power on one hand. I was out for 11 days during Isabel and that has been the only outage that has lasted more than 30 minutes.
 
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There's no economic incentive to build extra capacity, in fact there is a dis-incentive since excess supply drives prices lower. Building a plant to sit idle most of the time just in case another one breaks down would be a very bad business move.
False, every business besides the power company looses money in a decentralized grid, classic case of the profit motives of the 1% override the needs of every other business in the country.

In terms of gdp the grid are definitely the last entity that should be deregulated or allowed to run via solely “their” profit motives since the grid can put every other business in the nation out of business overnight.

This is why glass segal was created and is still required .
Individual momentary gains override the good of not only the business, but every other business, every other investor and the entire nation.

So Profit motives on the grid drive artificial instability and price increases and reduce the profit of all other businesses and damage gdp potential

People don’t like socialism but it is the lesser of two evils when it comes to certain portions of our economy
 
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In a market-style system, you are absolutely correct. But, back in the day with vertically integrated publicly owned utilities, extra capacity was kept around for exactly these sort of reasons.

Yesterday, Alberta issued an EEA3 (Emergency Energy Alert, Level 3, the highest possible, which includes load shedding). In the fall, the lowest demand season, because they had an interconnect down for maintenance, the wind crapped the bed, like it does, and it was unusually hot and they didn't have enough power. That's what running the ragged edge of supply nets.
View attachment 118864

Yesterday, Ontario demand peaked at 16,300MW. This was met with 9,100MW of nuclear, 4.600MW of hydro and we happened to have 2,400MW of wind available, so gas peaked at 1,600MW of 10,500MW. We had probably about 12,000MW of reserve capacity available. This is what that looked like for the gas plants:
View attachment 118865

That's because Ontario, despite participating in "the market" still has most of their generation capacity publicly owned. The capacity factor for Lennox, which is a massive 2.14GW gas/oil plant, was 1.5% in 2017. It idles almost all year, "just in case".

Things are similar in Quebec, which has 46,380MW of installed capacity, but for most of the year, uses about half that. Again, publicly owned utility.
View attachment 118867

What's quite interesting is that these grids that have excess capacity, do no have, as a rule, more expensive electricity. Quebec has the cheapest power in Canada, and Ontario is MUCH cheaper than many US states.
Yeah, I think the basic utilities of life should predominantly be in the public's hands, managed for the public good. Yes, its not going to be the cheapest every year, as a "lean and mean" private company will do, but having politicians directly responsible for the delivery of basic utilities should make the delivery of those utilities better overall.
 
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Yes I agree, I am a free market guy, but you don't privatize your grid for the same reasons you don't privatize your military, or police. If any of them fail its catastrophic for the everyone - and possibly you cease to exist as a functioning modern area.

Not to mention there really can't be a free market for utilities, because the cost to build the infrastructure is too long term and you can't afford to have multiple in one location - for example it would make no sense to have 3 different grids and I could choose which one to connect to. All 3 would suck. So your choice is monopoly or regulated utility.

FWIW I have had no particular issues with Dominion - but of course the South Carolina grid was built and managed by SCE&G up until a few years ago, and all the guys here are old SCE&G people, so I really can't tell the difference, except the cost has gone way up - but it has everywhere so who knows if any of that is Dominion anyway.
 
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I have to opposite experience as you. I have lived in my Dominion supplied house (above ground wires) for 31 years. I can count the number of times I've lost power on one hand. I was out for 11 days during Isabel and that has been the only outage that has lasted more than 30 minutes.

My brother was out for 4 days in January. He lives in Fredericksburg less than a mile from route 3. Not a rural area at all. His power company? Dominion.

I live in Nokesville, 5 miles from the nearest gas station. It's a rural area. My power didn't even so much as flicker during that snowstorm. My power company? NOVEC.

NOVEC > Dominion, any day, all day, anytime.
 
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It really depends on if your house shares a line with a factory or a hospital or some other place that has clout to get the power restored promptly.
 
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My brother was out for 4 days in January. He lives in Fredericksburg less than a mile from route 3. Not a rural area at all. His power company? Dominion.

I live in Nokesville, 5 miles from the nearest gas station. It's a rural area. My power didn't even so much as flicker during that snowstorm. My power company? NOVEC.

NOVEC > Dominion, any day, all day, anytime.
Where do you think NOVEC gets their power from?
Prince William County isn't "rural" you guys just all have your 5 acre "farms" and a 2032 JD tractor
 
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Where do you think NOVEC gets their power from?
Prince William County isn't "rural" you guys just all have your 5 acre "farms" and a 2032 JD tractor

NOVEC gets their power from various power suppliers. They buy power on the market from whatever supplier gives them the best price. They were once contractually obligated to buy power from ODEC, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, but that hasn't been the case for at least 15 years.

Their substations are fed from transmission lines owned and maintained by Dominion Power, however, these are maintained to a much higher standard than Dominion Power maintains their distribution lines. A transmission line outage would get Dominion Power some unwanted attention from the Feds (FERC), and they know that.

And I'm not going to get into a discussion with you about what is and is not "rural" but there are more cows than people on my road. And the electric distribution line which serves my house is overhead almost the entire way from the substation. Only the last 500 feet are underground. This is pretty typical of "rural" electric distribution.

By the way, as a Dominion customer, are you enjoying your new increased bills to pay for their offshore wind experiment?
 
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Dominion Power is also, in addition to being an employment program for incompetents, a bunch of liars.

I used to own a rental property in Fredericksburg, VA, a townhouse. For whatever reason, the electric meter for that townhouse is in a meter pedestal with 5 others, that pedestal being made by "Zinsco", a company long out of business and which didn't have a very good reputation when they were in business. (But their products were cheap! It should be noted that the meter base or pedestal is almost ALWAYS supplied by the utility, so it was Virginia Power's decision to install this piece of crap). Normally they install a separate meter base for each unit on it's back exterior wall instead of combining them in an apparent attempt to save a few bucks.

One day I noticed that the cover of that meter pedestal was falling off. It was in such bad shape that you could easily pull the cover off and gain access to the busbars inside, or even remove a meter.

By my standards, that's a safety hazard.

I called Dominion about it. They tried to tell me that the meter pedestal was not their responsibility and I would need an electrician to replace it. When I explained that it also had the meters for 5 of their other customers, the lady on the phone was undeterred and continued to tell me that it was my responsibility to fix it.

I called them several more times with the same answer: "Call an electrician". At no point did the call taker offer to look into the problem, or send someone out to look at it, or do anything someone with a functioning brain might do in an attempt to resolve the issue.

A few weeks later I noticed that someone had come through and repaired the meter pedestals.

Did Dominion bother to call me back and tell me that they fixed the problem? Nope.

I hate that company with a passion and I do not feel any compulsion to defend them because they have "Virginia" in their name.
 
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