Ruh Roh, Even More Embarrassing
Did you go to the Charleston Gazette story about utilities’ presentations on their derecho blackout that I linked to in my last post? Did you catch this section on the second page?
Four FirstEnergy transmission towers collapsed during the bad weather, said James Haney, vice president of operations with the company. Mon Power and Potomac Edison companies are part of FirstEnergy, which purchased Allegheny Power.
The towers were all built in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Haney said. Standards for building transmission towers have changed since then, he said.
Ruh roh. Were these the same transmission towers that FirstEnergy described this way in the report they filed at the PSC on May 17, 2012:
Based on the most recent condition, reliability and capacity assessments of the EHV [extra high voltage] Facilities in West Virginia, there are no immediate or short term plans (within the next five years) for upgrading the structures, conductor or hardware on the EHV Facilities in West Virginia.
Now FirstEnergy tells the PSC their transmission towers no longer meet industry standards. Back in May, FirstEnergy said this about their towers:
Based on the results of the Companies’ regular EHV facility maintenance and assessment efforts, the Companies have determined that there is no present need for condition-based reconductoring or rebuild efforts for any of the EHV Facilities. This determination also applies to Mon Power’s Pruntytown-Mt. Storm 500 kV line, which is not constructed from the same materials as Dominion Virginia Power’s Mt. Storm-Doubs 500 kV line, and does not have the deterioration problems that required that line to be rebuilt.
Dominion Virginia Power was pro-active and is rebuilding their Mt. Storm to Doubs line right now, but FirstEnergy claim everything is just fine with their high voltage transmission lines.
The FirstEnergy report refers specifically to the Pruntytown to Mt. Storm line, because it was built at about the same time (“late 1960s and early 1970s”) as both the Dominion line and the towers that collapsed in June 2012. FirstEnergy had to refer to this line specifically, because, at citizen urging, the WV Legislature had passed a concurrent resolution urging the PSC to require FirstEnergy to rebuild the Pruntytown-Mt. Storm line. PJM Interconnection had also pointed to that line as a reliability trouble spot in its 2011 RTEP.
And we can’t let the PSC off the hook. Their own staff attorney and the Consumer Advocate, in June 2011, urged the PSC to require FirstEnergy to upgrade its transmission facilities in WV.
The Coalition for Reliable Power was the only entity to file an objection to the May 2012 FirstEnergy whitewash filed at the PSC. Here is what we pointed out to the Commission:
In fact, the current FirstEnergy blackout demonstrated that FirstEnergy has failed to adequately assess the durability of its steel lattice towers, particularly on its 500 kV transmission system in West Virginia. FirstEnergy’s report included no reference to any assessment of its West Virginia towers concerning a clearly demonstrated vulnerability of those towers to thunderstorm downbursts and microbursts.
Structural engineers have modeled and described the particular vulnerability of loading on steel lattice tower arms in the strong down drafts in storm microbursts. We have appended two photographs, in Appendix A, provided by FirstEnergy of one of their steel lattice towers destroyed by the June 29, 2012 storm on a 500 kV transmission line near Ellenboro, WV, and from Great River Energy’s Web site (http://blog.greatriverenergy.com/2011/08/26/storm-damages-vital-transmission-line/) of a similar structure that was destroyed in a Minnesota storm on August 1, 2011. Both towers failed in exactly the same place on the structure, and in almost exactly the same way.
In their paper titled “Modelling [sic] of tornado and microburst-induced wind loading and failure of a lattice transmission tower,” published in the journal Engineering Structures (Engineering Structures 23 (2001) pp. 365–375 also at http://www.eng.uwo.ca/people/esavory/Engstruct.pdf) authors Eric Savory and others described exactly this kind of damage in their models, eleven years ago. Despite the fact that these kinds of storms and downburst incidents are clearly possible in West Virginia and the steel lattice towers in FirstEnergy’s high voltage transmission system are clearly vulnerable, there is no mention of either the vulnerability or any plan to protect or upgrade these towers from this vulnerability.
So, now FirstEnergy admits its steel lattice towers no longer meet industry standards. In fact, engineering studies, published eleven years ago, showed exactly that. This particular study demonstrated that FirstEnergy’s obsolete steel lattice towers would collapse in exactly the way they did in June 2012.
Now, will the WV PSC order the rebuilding of Pruntytown to Mt. Storm or the HV line from the Harrison Power Station to Parkersburg line where the towers recently collapsed?
FirstEnergy’s May 2012 report is extremely embarrassing for the company given the collapse of their towers and their new claims that their HV transmission infrastructure is obsolete. That’s pretty embarrassing.
Will the WV PSC ignore this clear threat to WV’s power grid and fail, once again, to order rebuilding of FirstEnergy’s transmission lines? How embarrassing that would be.