CURRENTS October 2003
Information about
Jump to artical>>>

How the electric grid can meltdown I Touchstone Energy® Co-ops Again Top Industry Average
Stopping the decline in Illinois’ livestock industry I National do-not-call registry open
What to do after an accident

How the electric grid can meltdown in nine seconds

Gridlock - we use that term to describe an overloaded highway system. While not a perfect analogy, it could also be used to explain the recent historical blackout in August that shut down much of the ­Northeast United States.

In some areas of the country we are trying to transport electricity over a two-lane blacktop when we really need a four-lane interstate highway. When an accident happens on this electrical highway, traffic has to be re-routed to another transmission line in microseconds. If that line can’t handle the traffic it can shutdown because of the overload, cause another line to reach overload ­conditions, and trip generators off ­before they are damaged. If the ­outage is not isolated a cascading domino effect spreads across the grid.

Three facts were made painfully clear to everyone after this most recent blackout. First, we were reminded of how incredibly dependent we are on electricity. Secondly, electricity is normally so reliable that we have taken it for granted. And third, we have to do something to ­improve transmission line reliability.

Although a lot of finger pointing is still going on, the bottom line is the warning signs were there and the signs were ignored. Our demand for electricity has grown, but the transmission system needed to transport it has not. At the same time we’ve changed the rules and tried to create a competitive market on a monopoly-based transmission system. The price tag to catch up has been estimated to be between $50 and $100 billion. That could mean the average U.S. consumer would see a $100 annual power bill increase. The good news is we could see cost savings of five times that if an efficient transmission system is built.

Bob Harbour, Vice President of Generation and Operations for Continental Cooperative Services (CCS), a generation and transmission cooperative serving Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, says the cost could be less. “But, there is no doubt we will see increased costs in our high voltage transmission bills.”

Although an outage like this could occur in Illinois, co-ops here were unaffected by the blackout. However, Harbour says CCS lost one hydroelectric generator briefly and nearly 25 substations, mostly in northwest Pennsylvania. “These substations were lost due to the transmission lines owned by investor owned ­utilities tripping off,” says Harbour.

Harbour served as Chairman of the Mid-America Interconnected Network (MAIN), one of 10 regional reliability councils under the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC).

NERC’s mission is to ensure that the bulk electric system in North America is reliable, adequate and secure. Since its formation in 1968, after a major blackout, NERC has operated successfully as a voluntary organization, relying on reciprocity, peer pressure and the mutual self-interest of all those involved to create a reliable transmission grid.

Harbour says NERC standards are voluntary and not enforceable, but penalties for not complying with the standards have been included in the energy bill now being reviewed by a U.S. Senate and House conference committee.

Regional Transmission Operators (RTOs) have also been put in place in many areas to independently oversee regional transmission grids. Harbour says RTOs can help, but should not replace existing control area operators. “Regional operators cannot know all of the details of the vast system they are monitoring. Even with electronic monitoring and alarms, every situation cannot be pre-programmed. We need both existing control area operators as well as the regional operators.”

Harbour says co-ops have installed more generation and have long term plans to assure sufficient generation, but transmission is still in need of upgrading and expansion. Much of the transmission capacity serving co-ops is owned by investor-owned utilities.

Harbour says in most of the country deregulation so far has increased price volatility and increased wholesale power cost to small consumers, decreased reliability and bankrupted energy suppliers. “We need some re-regulation. We need to pass NERC’s reliability language, and we need to closely review the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Standard Market Design idea.” He adds that to build more transmission line capacity will require a better rate of return and less risk on transmission line investment, and federal right of eminent domain where transmission construction has been stopped.

Tim Reeves, President and ­General Manager of Southern ­Illinois Power Cooperative (SIPC), Marion, says obtaining right of way agreements is one of the biggest impediments to building new transmission lines. SIPC provides power to three southern Illinois co-ops over its own transmission lines. Transmission lines owned by Illinois Power serve three other SIPC co-ops.

“In the last 10 years I don’t know of anyone that hasn’t had problems acquiring right of way,” says Reeves. “We are working on a new 161 kv transmission line that will go to one of our load centers, but the problem is getting right of way. It takes years.” He adds that often the process ends up stuck in courts.

Reeves also serves on a MAIN committee. He says that all utilities in the MAIN region are committed to reserving generation capacity for emergencies. “We keep a per­centage of the largest unit in spinning reserves. If even the largest unit in our region, which is 1,200 mw, trips off we can ramp up and put power back online.”

Peaking capacity has also been added but that has only added to the transmission capacity issue since most peaking plants have been located far away from metropolitan load centers and power, requiring even more transmission capacity. “Transmission lines were built to serve local utility loads. Then they were interconnected. Now on top of all of that we deregulated the transmission system and people can buy and sell power across the system. We added this third layer of use on the transmission system and we have added capacity. The problem is not going to go away in a short period of time.”

Could a blackout like this happen in Illinois? Both Harbour and Reeves say yes. But Reeves says, “The worst transmission congestion in Illinois is the interconnect going north to ­Wisconsin. But there are areas of southern Illinois that are limited ­during peak load periods.”

Reeves adds that as bad as this blackout was the system worked. The Eastern Interconnect goes from the Rocky Mountains east, excluding Texas, and we didn’t trip off here in Illinois. Eventually the system worked, not as quickly as it should have, but it stopped it.”

What can co-op members do? Harbour says most major outages are still caused by weather events like ice storms. He says, “Prepare for blackouts the same as you would for an ice storm. Keep the freezer door closed. Protect your water supply. Make plans and prepare for freezing weather, and do the same for your livestock.”

For more information on being prepared for outages talk to your local electric cooperative representative, or go to the Illinois Electric Council’s Web site

Back to top of page

Touchstone Energy® Co-ops Again Top Industry Average

Quarter after quarter, Touchstone Energy cooperatives continue to outpace the rest of the energy industry in customer satisfaction, obtaining a score of 80 in a second quarter 2003 survey by the American Customer ­Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The score is seven points higher than the electric utility industry average of 73.

“Touchstone Energy co-ops continue to be the model for other utilities to follow in serving consumers,” said Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Chief Operating Officer Jim Bausell. “Our cooperatives have consistently led the industry in customer satisfaction each quarter, a testament to the efforts co-op employees put forth every day,” he said.

ACSI is one of the most recognized customer satisfaction indices in the United States. It’s managed by the University of Michigan Business School and sponsored by the American Society for Quality. It measures customers’ satisfaction in 16 major industries and 190 leading corporations. The index is a weighted average of four questions on a zero to 100 scale.

Back to top of page

Stopping the decline in Illinois’ livestock industry

We grow the grain to feed livestock right here in Illinois. But Illinois beef herds have declined by one-third in the last 15 years. Over the last four years the number of pork producers has been cut in half. And in just five years Illinois dairy herds have declined by one-third.

To stop the slaughter of Illinois’ livestock industry the Illinois Milk ­Producers Association, Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Pork Producers Association, Illinois Beef Association, Illinois Corn Growers Association, and Illinois Soybean Association are working together to develop new production systems, new markets, and improve efficiency and profitability.

They have formed an alliance called the Illinois Livestock Development Group (ILDG). The purpose of the ILDG is to identify reasons for the decline in the states livestock industry, work to stabilize it, and ultimately increase the numbers of livestock in the state. These groups collectively have made sig­nificant financial contributions to help fund this three-year effort.

Source: Illinois Milk Producers Association
and Illinois Farm Bureau

Back to top of page

National do-not-call registry open

Consumers can now begin to do something about those pesky telemarketing calls that interrupt dinner. A national do-not-call registry is open. You can put your name on a list so that telemarketers must stop calling you by law.

Telemarketers will have access to the registry and are required to scrub their call list at least once every 90 days. In October, the Federal Trade Commission and the states will begin to enforce the registry. Violators will be subject to a fine of up to $11,000 per violation.

To register on the list or for additional details, go to

Source: FTC; Time magazine
Back to top of page

What to do after an accident

Even a minor fender bender can rattle the most experienced driver. The key is to remain calm and take things a step at time in getting the necessary information from other drivers and documenting the scene. Here are some tips from the auto experts at Consumer Reports.

  • Place triangles, flares, or another warning signal device around the accident scene, then stand a safe distance away until help arrives.
  • Call police if a phone is handy.
  • Don’t argue or admit blame.
  • Don’t reveal your insurance limits or other financial data.
  • Ask to see a driver’s license, registration, and insurance card for all drivers involved.
  • Write down the name, address, phone number, license number, registration number, and insurance number for the driver(s) involved, and the insurer(s).
  • Also note the other vehicle’s license plate, year, make, model, color and vehicle identification number (VIN).
  • Get names and phone numbers of witnesses and anyone injured.
  • Get the investigating officer’s name, badge number and department.
  • Draw a detailed diagram of the accident scene, showing streets and cars involved.
  • Notify your insurer at once.

Source: Consumer Reports

Back to top of page