By Henry Curtis
NextEra attorneys have been hammering away on reliability statistics.
If only NextEra were to take over the HECO Companies then NextEra could bring its technical expertise to Hawaii to improve reliability in Hawaii.
Some have questioned the assumption that Florida Power & Light, with its flat as a pancake terrain, and Maui’s rugged terrain, could and should have equal reliability levels obtained at equal cost.
Some have noted that reliability can be thought of like a health plan, you can buy different plans according to your needs and your willingness to pay. This has become easier with the growth in on-site generation, on-site storage, and micro-grids.
HECO maintains one such distribution system in downtown Honolulu where customers pay a higher rate for having buildings connected to two different substations.
Campbell Industrial Park Substation, O`ahu. Photo by Author
Florida experienced the “Year of the Four Hurricanes” in 2004. For six weeks, Florida reeled under the assault of Hurricanes, Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.
The hurricanes were rated as Categories 4, 2, 3 and 3. In Florida they killed over 100 people and caused over $20 billion in damages.
The following year Florida got whacked by Wilma, which until Patricia in 2015, was the most intense tropical cyclone recorded in the western hemisphere.
The damage was detailed in the Florida State’s Energy Emergency Response to the 2004 Hurricanes United States Department of Energy Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability issued by the National Association of State Energy Officials June 2005
As a result Florida Power & Light began a grid hardening program. This grid modernization made the grid more secure and increased reliability statistics.
The Florida approach but did not meet the grid modernization concept proposed by the Hawai`i Public Utilities Commission.
The Hawai`i Public Utilities Commission envisions a grid able to interface with thousands of new rooftop solar systems in addition to the current 77,000 rooftop systems and the development of smart meters with time of use capabilities.
Waimea Substation, County of Hawai`i. Photo by Author
The relative level of reliability is influenced by the degree of transmission and distribution automation; the percentage of overhead versus underground delivery modes; relative grid network, loop, radial system configurations; customer density; urban versus rural wiring; coastal, mountainous and challenging terrain geographical impacts; and environmental factors such as vegetation, winds, rain, storms, and lightning strikes.
Virtually all outages occur on the distribution grid, but national attention often focuses on the few large transmission-level failures.
The dated 20th century model is where residential loads subsidize commercial loads. Traditionally large commercial loads required higher reliability levels than residential loads. The total transmission grid is built to meet the higher reliability level. The cost to upgrade the transmission grid is shared by all. However a single large commercial is easier to handle than several small loads, so commercial loads are given lower utility rates.
The Galvin Electricity Initiative, founded by Motorola chief Bob Galvin, noted a national problem which also occurs in Hawai`i. When a new development is built all ratepayers pay for new electrical upgrades.
“An unintended consequence of subsidizing new development is less efficient, local, all-electric designs. When electricity distribution is provided for free, other more efficient design options cannot compete.”
“There are a number of significant challenges that would make this type of standardization very difficult and potentially lead to meaningless and unfair comparisons,” asserted the Edison Electric Institute (EEI).
“There are a number of environmental and regional issues associated with standardization, such as differing customer demographics, geography, climate, and vegetation density. In addition, each utility has a slightly different system in terms of voltage, configuration, design, and redundancy, making it difficult to compare them only on the basis of reliability performance.”
The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) is managed by the University of California.
An LBL study from last year found “statistically significant correlations between the average number of power interruptions experienced annually by a customer and a number of explanatory variables including wind speed, precipitation, lightning strikes, and the number of customers per line mile.”
The study also found a “statistically significant correlations between the average total duration of power interruptions experienced annually by a customer and wind speed, precipitation, cooling degree‐days, the percentage share of underground transmission and distribution lines.”
The Galvin Electricity Initiative asserted that “there is a perception among industry stakeholders that improved reliability requires higher rates. The cities of Naperville, Ill., and Chattanooga, Tenn., dispelled this myth by dramatically improving reliability without raising rates.”
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