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Don’t be a Peninsula

I grew up in a state with a panhandle.  The Nebraska panhandle is a LONG way from Lincoln, the center of government and Husker football.  Nebraska panhandle residents occasionally feel ignored and irrelevant.  They react by threatening to secede from Nebraska and join Wyoming or Colorado.  Now that Colorado has been ‘cannibisized’ (sic) I’m a little surprised that this talk has not resurrected, but whatever.
 
I suspect that Oklahoma, Texas and Idaho have possibly experienced similar secession rumblings.
 
I recognize that a panhandle is not the same as a peninsula, but stay with me on this as I think it is relevant.
 
At the recent American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) conference in Branson, MO, Commissioner Ronald Brise’, with the Florida Public Service Commission, provided a workshop presentation on “Maintaining a Secure Electric Grid”.  
 
In 2004, Florida experienced a number of hurricane events.  Some populated portions of south Florida were impacted (pun intended) three times.  Many other areas experienced two hurricanes that followed roughly the same path.
 
In 2005 Florida again had parts of the state that suffered two separate hurricane events.
 
The cost of restoring the electric grid in those years was immense.   Not surprisingly, the Florida legislature charged the Public Service Commission with developing enhanced plans for storm preparedness. 
 
This resulted in three major initiatives:
·         All investor-owned utilities must update and file storm hardening plans every three years
·         Rules require utilities to purposefully place distribution lines in accessible and safe locations
·         Rules and tariffs are now in place to incentivize utilities to convert distribution lines from overhead to underground
 
Ironically, now that Florida has implemented these practices, they have not had large-scale, damaging hurricane events since 2005.  I suspect these practices, when tested in the next hurricane, will prove beneficial and reduce the overall damages.
 
Nebraska does not have hurricanes.  Utility disruptions are typically the result of other natural disasters; blizzards, tornados, ice storms, prairie fires, buffalo stampedes, locusts and the Oklahoma Sooner football team.  Okay, not all of the above are actually recent disasters, but all are serious disruptions.
 
Nebraska is surrounded on all sides by other states.  All, inferior, of course, but states nonetheless.  During large-scale power outages, it is common practice to ‘borrow’ power from adjoining states’ utilities that escaped damage to their electric grid.
 
Florida, being a peninsula, does not have the luxury of a grid that connects to adjacent states, except from the north.  Being a peninsula, with its particular geographical constraints, they must think about their grid and storm hardening a bit differently.  Their solutions will look different from those of other states.
 
I recently heard a utility engineer say “Nobody is doing it wrong, but everybody is doing it different.” 
Solutions that work in one area of the country are not always appropriate if used in another.  
 
We work in a lifeline industry that is critical for supporting the health, welfare and safety of the public.  We have the privilege to work on many projects that are both challenging and important to society.  Our work makes a difference, but often it requires innovation and thinking outside the box in order to create a successful outcome.
 
What is the lesson to be learned from this consideration of grid hardening and storm repair response?  Don’t be a peninsula.  

About the author

Marlon is our account executive in the Power market. He has more than 35 years of experience with all aspects of planning, design and construction of 12.5 kV-345 kV distribution and transmission systems, including right-of-way, design, regulatory coordination, public information meetings, public testimony and project management. With an extensive background in power transmission and distribution, Marlon brings a wide variety of knowledge in discussing the energy industry and the issues it faces. From education of future engineers to critical infrastructure analysis, he offers a unique perspective on the industry and where it's headed.