Saturday, June 25, 2011

A fool heading a federal regulatory commission?

This move sounds more like a cost-saving measure for industry than anything else:
Power grid change may disrupt clocks

A yearlong experiment with the nation's electric grid could mess up traffic lights, security systems and some computers — and make plug-in clocks and appliances like programmable coffeemakers run up to 20 minutes fast.

"A lot of people are going to have things break and they're not going to know why," said Demetrios Matsakis, head of the time service department at the U.S. Naval Observatory, one of two official timekeeping agencies in the federal government.

Since 1930, electric clocks have kept time based on the rate of the electrical current that powers them. If the current slips off its usual rate, clocks run a little fast or slow. Power companies now take steps to correct it and keep the frequency of the current — and the time — as precise as possible.

The group that oversees the U.S. power grid is proposing an experiment that would allow more frequency variation than it does now without corrections, according to a company presentation obtained by The Associated Press.

Officials say they want to try this to make the power supply more reliable, save money and reduce what may be needless efforts. The test is tentatively set to start in mid-July, but that could change.

Tweaking the power grid's frequency is expensive and takes a lot of effort, said Joe McClelland, head of electric reliability for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

"Is anyone using the grid to keep track of time?" McClelland said. "Let's see if anyone complains if we eliminate it."
The answer is, obviously, YES. And putting it in terms of clocks-only is misleading since other devices would be affected.

To clarify, from a commenter at Yahoo:
Any clock that flashes "12:00" when you unplug the device is controlled by a crystal oscillator. The power line frequency won't have any effect on it because, internally, those devices all run on DC current. The only clocks that will be affected are those that run on AC synchronous motors. There aren't many of those kinds of clocks still in use.
That's correct, but there are still lots of devices dependent on proper frequency, along with substantial use of AC synchro motors, as another commenter notes:
... many industrial processes run on AC-syncronous motors. The least of anyone's worries will be clocks. When you change the line frequency, the RPM's of AC motors change as well. For everything to work properly in industrial systems, things would have to be converted to DC motors to avoid issues with frequency fluctuation. DC motors rarely provide the cost-effectiveness in terms of torque, reliability and simplicity. ... De-standardization of electrical systems is NOT the way into the future.
FYI, Joe McClelland was appointed in 2007 (draw your own conclusions).

We'll see how harmless this experiment turns out to be. If the frequencies are allowed to wander significantly, older audio equipment like tape decks and turntables will not function properly.

FOR THE RECORD: Some people are saying concern about the frequency change is analogous to Y2K. I always thought Y2K was way over-hyped. Changing frequencies seems much more substantial a hazard.


As someone who spent a substantial part of 1998 and 1999 working very hard to make Y2K a non-event, you're welcome.

By Blogger JeffKay, at 6/25/2011 5:46 AM  

I spent the same two years upgrading and testing all the software on IBM 3081 and 3090 mainframes at the university I was with at the time, including all the locally written stuff. It took two years and hundreds of bug fixes, including disassembling, recommenting and rebuilding software with no source code, before Y2K was a "non-event."

So how do you deal with the problem? Hammond organ players have been dealing with it for years when they have to play live gigs using portable generator power. Generators fluctuate wildly, and when the electrical load goes up, the frequency goes down. This makes organs drift in and out of tune on stage.

The solution is to use the generator to power a hefty DC amplifier, like a DC-300. You then use a crystal controlled frequency source to provide an exact 60 cycle input to the amplifier,and use the output of the amplifier to power the organ.

This is, of course, tremendously wasteful of electricity, and one of the results of this national "experiment" is that anyone who needs reasonably accurate 60 cycle electricity is going to have to purchase equipment to do just that -- which means that they will be using much more electricity to compensate for this "energy-saving" use.

Now that the nonsense is aside, what is the real reason they are doing this?

The real reason that they are doing this is because they have so bottled up the permits for new power plants, that they now know that in the next few years there will not be enough electrical generating capacity for the United States. As a result, they plan to avoid rolling blackouts by simply letting the existing generators become overtaxed and slow down, thus producing brownouts instead of blackouts. What they fail to mention is that this is going to burn out electrical equipment left and right, and produce electrical fires, as power supplies designed to operate at 60 Hz are forced to run on different frequencies. They're hoping you don't figure out why.

This is just a consequence of our asinine national energy policy -- where the administration is hell-bent on having people plug in power-sucking electric cars, but refuses to authorize the construction of the power plants needed to provide the electricity,

By Anonymous jms, at 6/25/2011 2:14 PM  

but refuses to authorize the construction of the power plants needed to provide the electricity,

Calpine Obtains Permit to Build Nation's First Power Plant with Federal Limit on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

HAYWARD, Calif., Feb 04, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Calpine Corporation (NYSE:CPN) today received approval to build the nation's first power plant with a federal limit on greenhouse gas emissions - putting both the plant and the company at the forefront of the fight against global warming.

As national and world leaders continue to move toward regulation of global warming pollutants, Calpine, long a leader in generating environmentally responsible renewable and natural gas fired electric power, has worked to establish a first-of-its-kind limit on emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases from the company's planned 600-megawatt Russell City Energy Center located in the City of Hayward in Alameda County, Calif. Construction of the natural gas-fired power plant is expected to begin later this year.

Plans for a new hydro-electric power plant on the Kansas River are moving forward.

Commissioners unanimously approved a special-use permit for the Bowersock Mills and Power Company to build a four-story plant on the north banks of the Kaw.

The plant would be just east of the Kansas River bridges downtown, and the building would be slightly taller than the adjacent river levees. The project also would include canoe docking areas both east and west of the Bowersock Dam, and would include a new fishing platform east of the dam.

Commissioners also started the process of allowing Bowersock to apply for up to $19 million worth of industrial revenue bonds. The bonds would be the responsibility of Bowersock to repay. The city would not back the bonds, but the bonds would allow Bowersock to borrow money at lower interest rates.

Leaders with Bowersock haven’t yet committed to building the plant, but want to have all the necessary permits in place as they search for a wholesale buyer of the electricity the plant would produce.

The plant could receive a key federal permit by Dec. 1. If a buyer for the electricity is found by the end of the year, the plant could be operational by mid-2012.

You might know about software, but you should look a little closer at what's going on before making sweeping statements of fact in the future.

By Blogger Dark Avenger, at 6/26/2011 12:30 PM  

Yes, let's look.

According to the slightly authoritative Wikipedia, the United States consumed
4369 TWh in 2008. Divide that by (24 x 365) and we get 0.5 terawatts, or 500,000 megawatts. This is a conservative oversimplification, of course, because electricity is not used at a steady state 24 hours a day 365 days a year, so the actual baseline must be higher, but this gives some idea of the magnitude of power generation required to keep the lights on.

Your two proposed power plants (neither of which have been built), are 600MW and 5MW.

I think that it's sort of funny and telling that you would include a 5MW power plant as an example of power plant construction in the Obama era. Really? Hopefully, this power plant will go through, so it can begin proudly supplying 0.001% of our national energy needs. Well, every drop counts I guess.

As for the 600MW power plant, that is substantial, yet serves as a great example of why business is not investing in capital expansion and creating jobs under the Obama administration. Let's look at the details of the project.

Apparently, it is swimming in subsidies, and flush with money to pass around:

... creating 650 union construction jobs ... generating approximately $30 million in one-time tax revenue and more than $5 million annually in property tax revenue to help fund local government services.

Russell City Energy Center also will donate $10 million to help build a new library for Hayward and is working with stakeholders to make improvements and support programs that enhance the enjoyment of the San Francisco Bay shoreline.

So, the government gets a $30 million kickback on top, $5 million per year (these are property taxes, not energy taxes), and a $10 million dollar library, as well as other unnamed "improvements.

The California Energy Commission granted a license for the plant in September 2007

Oops. This project has been bottled up so long that it actually started under the Bush administration.

And finally:

The Russell City project is jointly owned by Calpine Corporation, which holds a 65 percent equity interest and serves as development manager, and an affiliate of GE Energy Financial Services, which holds a 35 percent equity interest.

That's how you get a power plant approved in 2011. You give a 35% cut of the business to one of Obama's business friends. In this case, General Electric.


By Anonymous jms, at 6/26/2011 11:36 PM  

Now, back in the red states, things
aren't so nice:

High Compliance Costs Force Leading Power Company to Prematurely Shut Down 5 Coal-Fired Plants ...

The [American Electric Power] company has been reviewing options to shut down nearly 6,000 megawatts of coal-fired production in anticipation of tighter environmental regulations ... AEP said under the proposed regulations it would prematurely shut nearly 25% of its current coal-based capacity, and about 65% of the company's generating capacity is coal based. The company predicted the loss of about 600 jobs; it has about 19,000 employees. Under AEP's plan, it would close five generating plants--three in West Virginia, one in Virginia and one in Ohio.

6000 MW! That's 10 times the power capacity of the "new" power plants you are touting.

What did AEP do wrong? While Calpine was investing money in tax kickbacks, union jobs, community libraries and handing over a big slice of the pie to heavy-hitting administration crony General Electric, AEP was wasting their money as follows:

It said the estimated spending is in addition to $7.2 billion AEP has spent since 1990 to reduce emissions from its coal-fired generators.

And that's a perfect example of why companies are not expanding and hiring. Why should companies without political connections to the administration invest money to create jobs, when the government stands ready to destroy their investment with a stroke of a pen while setting up sweetheart deals for their politically connected competitors?

By Anonymous jms, at 6/26/2011 11:38 PM  

I was able to find two examples of power plants that look like they will be approved.

I didn't claim to make a complete list of all such projects in the lower 48 states.

Thanks for demonstrating a lack of discriminating analysis, oh wise one.

By Blogger Dark Avenger, at 6/27/2011 8:58 PM  

I never said that either of our lists was complete. You started the anecdotal evidence game. By those rules, I lead by a score of 6000 to 605.

This administration has had three years to speed through all of the power plants needed to power all those electric cars that they are subsidizing, in addition to fueling the economic expansion and new green jobs promised by the administration.

So where are the power plants? Why haven't they been approved? Why is the EPA working overtime to shut down existing power plants, reducing grid capacity while at the same time promoting the replacement of gasoline with electric power?

You know it is the President's job to ride herd on his agencies and make sure that they are working towards his policy goals, not against them. You can't have simultaneous national policies of both reducing electrical capacity on an already-overstressed grid and expanding electrical demand by introducing a new, massively power sucking electrical product and trying to sell it to the masses.

Or to put it another way, who is going to buy an electric car when the cost of electricity necessarily skyrockets?

By Anonymous jms, at 6/28/2011 6:38 AM  

This administration has had three years

Except they've only been in power for 2.5 years, even the election isn't 3 years old until November of this year.

Thanks for demonstrating what conservative logic looks like.

Also, China is eating our lunch when it comes to solar and wind power, but that doesn't seem to bother you.

Why is that?

By Blogger Dark Avenger, at 6/30/2011 6:41 AM  

Because wind power is a massively subsidized political bubble. It does wonderful things for politicians but doesn't create useful energy. Wikipedia notes:

The National People's Congress permanent committee passed a law that requires the Chinese energy companies to purchase all the electricity produced by the renewable energy sector.

That's certainly one way to encourage development of wind farms. But are they useful?

The increasing penetration of wind power has exacerbated the problems of delivering reliable power to users. “Because wind energy is unstable, it is a pollutant and affects the safety of the power grid,” said Hu Xueha, the deputy chief engineer of China’s Power Grid Research Institute.

Every megawatt of wind power has to be continually backed by a megawatt of conventional power generation, because wind turbines can stop at any moment if the wind dies down:

In addition, increasing China's wind power capacity means increasing coal use as well, to provide power when the wind isn't available. "China will need to add a substantial amount of coal-fired power capacity by 2020 in line with its expanding economy, and the idea is to bring some of the capacity earlier than necessary in order to facilitate the wind-power transmission," according to Shi Pengfei, vice president of the Chinese Wind Power Association.

Got that? They are building coal burning plants faster, because they need them to back up the "clean" wind farms!

You can't just "turn on" a coal plant in a few seconds to take over from a stalled wind farm. Coal plants are water boilers. They need to be burning coal continually at nearly full power in order to be generating the steam that is needed at a moments notice to take over a stalled wind farm. This means that even when the windmills are spinning away and producing energy, the coal plants are still burning just as much coal to keep the boilers online. It's just that instead of generating electricity with that steam, they have to bleed off the steam instead.

So yeah, wind power is a complete crock of shit. It cannot replace conventional power because it is not reliable. Wind power might be useful for certain industrial applications such as alumimum manufacture that use a lot of electricity, but don't need a steady source, but that's not what they are using them for. They are putting them on the grid, and trashing their grid with them.

The last thing we need to do is "catch up" to the Chinese in creating a politically correct, useless, heavily polluting, unstable power grid. China will pay dearly for their indulgance in political wind power with a destabilized power grid and increased pollution from the standby coal plants.

As for solar, China is building power plants that are heavily subsidized and will not have paid for themselves by the time the solar panels deteriorate, in 25 years or so. Then, they will have tons and tons of useless, extremely hazardous waste. Solar panels contain large amounts of heavily toxic cadmium. Is China going to spend billions of dollars to properly dispose of this hazardous waste, or will the panels be hauled off to a dump, where they will contaminate the groundwater with cadmium? Based on China's sterling environmental record, I don't think so.

China can double down on the stupid. It doesn't mean we have to follow suit.

By Anonymous jms, at 7/02/2011 10:22 AM  

The same thing is happening in the UK. They are building gas power plants that will run 24/7 to "back up" the wind turbines, and will produce more CO2 than if they were just producing the electricity via gas in the first place, instead of using gas generators to back up the wind turbines.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/04/2011 3:10 PM  

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