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Feb. 13, 2009 - Progress Hits Peak Electric Demand

FEBRUARY 13, 2009
Fiddling While Rome Burns
By Mike Hopping

Part of Michael Hoppings' Electrifying Developments 2 series that examines the electric utilities and power consumption in Western North Carolina

In January, 2008, Progress Energy customers in Western North Carolina set a new record for peak electric demand: a one-hour average of 984 MW. Such numbers weren’t expected until 2011. This winter, on the morning of January 16, 2009, WNC blew that mark away.

According to the revised estimate of Progress system planner Sam Waters, we burned through 1050 MW on Jan. 16, 2009, far surpassing the company’s peak demand forecast for 2015.

The news set a grim and occasionally contentious tone for the February 13, 2009, meeting of Progress Energy’s Community Energy Advisory Council (CEAC). Waters described how company dispatchers managed the demand spike using existing local resources, a soon-to-expire contract from American Electric Power (AEP) for power imported from coal-fired plants located in Indiana, a power transfer from the Progress eastern region and a spot purchase of 100 MW from Duke. Progress still had about 200 MW of juice available in reserve, Waters said, but had one of the coal-fired units at Lake Julian gone down, the system would have been close to maxing out.

Waters did not take the opportunity to announce plans for a peaking power plant in Buncombe County. Instead, he spoke about a new pact with Duke Energy. Beginning in 2010, Progress may increase the amount of electricity shifted to WNC from eastern generating sites via Duke transmission lines from 136 MW to 300 MW. Waters cautioned that Duke will be allowed to interrupt Progress power transfers for up to 1200 hours/year during the first four years of the new contract. If such an interruption occurs during a WNC demand spike, the company could find itself scrambling.

Gnashing teeth
Progress issued a press release concerning the January 16th spike, but the Mitchell News-Journal, based in Spruce Pine, may have been the only mainstream media to pass the information on to readers. Martha Thompson, community relations manager for Progress, expressed frustration about the lack of coverage but told me the company has been courting the Asheville papers for months. She doesn’t know what more Progress can do to impress them with the seriousness of the issue.

Taken aback by the new peak demand record, council members weighed in with their own frustrations. Robin Cape, recalling that local opposition doomed the Woodfin peaking plant proposal, decried the apparent local comfort with importing coal-fired and nuclear power from elsewhere. Also, “Per capita electric consumption in the United States is very high,” she said. “[CEAC] isn’t really addressing that.” She laid part of the blame for that at the doors of utility companies. “We’re wedded to entrenched power sources. This isn’t just a customer problem. They don’t have much choice about how their power is generated.” She contrasted the current model for front-loading costs of solar energy to how people are charged for cell phones. “If you charged people the 20-year cost upfront for their cell phones, nobody’d have a cell phone.”

Michael Shore understood the inherent slowness of legislative and bureaucratic processes, but complained that the timeline for reform is disappointing. Vernon Daugherty groused that heating and cooling controls in schools are 30 years out of date. “You know that on the morning the schools were closed the buildings were heated like there were students there, while the people stayed home and turned on their TVs.”

For the complete article, Click Here>


Editor's Note: Excerpts of this article were used with permission by Michael Hopping.


Copyright 2009 Michael Hopping with use rights grants to Mediabear


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