WV PSC Not Interested in Innovation and Reliability

As I reported back in July, the WV PSC opened an investigation into the 2012 blackout pretty quickly, and that is to their credit.  As I noted in my July post, the PSC ordered all power companies, phone companies and water companies in the state to answer 11 questions about their blackout response and plans for the future.

Article 1-1 of Chapter 24 of the WV Code directs the WV PSC as follows:

(a) It is the purpose and policy of the Legislature in enacting this chapter to confer upon the public service commission of this state the authority and duty to enforce and regulate the practices, services and rates of public utilities in order to:

(1) Ensure fair and prompt regulation of public utilities in the interest of the using and consuming public;

(2) Provide the availability of adequate, economical and reliable utility services throughout the state;

(3) Encourage the well-planned development of utility resources in a manner consistent with state needs and in ways consistent with the productive use of the state’s energy resources, such as coal;

(4) Ensure that rates and charges for utility services are just, reasonable, applied without unjust discrimination or preference, applied in a manner consistent with the purposes and policies set forth in article two-a of this chapter, and based primarily on the costs of providing these services;

(5) Encourage energy conservation and the effective and efficient management of regulated utility enterprises;

Items 7 and 8 of the PSC’s questions to the power companies, in the order that kicked off the blackout investigation, read as follows:

7. Describe in detail new plans or amendments to existing plans to deal with future major event outages and any estimated increase in expenses.
8. Describe in detail any planned or desired modification to existing infrastructure and estimated costs.

So state law directs the PSC to “Provide the availability of adequate, economical and reliable utility services throughout the state;”.  In their investigation of the 2012 blackout, the Commissioners specifically asked the power companies about their plans “to deal with” future blackouts.

One of the obvious ways that WV’s electric companies, but also WV’s phone and water companies, can plan to increase the reliability of WV’s public services is to expand solar power and battery storage for power customers, especially for critical services.

Frontier telephone company provides a clear example.  Frontier’s remote switching systems require supplemental electric power from local power companies in order for the land line phone system to function.  When Mon Power blacks out in my area, Frontier goes to all its switching centers, some located in remote areas, with no security, and operates portable gasoline generators.  Local thieves, knowing that people are desperate for generators, often steal these unsecured generators, cutting vital phone service and ultimately raising phone rates from the costs imposed by the losses of these generators.  Might the WV PSC be interested in technologies that would allow Frontier to provide backup power in remote locations using small PV arrays and minimal battery storage for the small amount of power these switching centers require?

I thought so.

So I filed to intervene in the investigation of the 2012 investigation, offering information about my experience with my system during my 13 days without power.  The PSC wasn’t interested.  The Commissioners filed this order on September 17 saying my information was not relevant to their investigation.

The Commission has considered Mr. Howley’s petition to intervene and finds that
it addresses matters that are outside the scope of this Commission investigation. This
investigation is limited to information directly relating to the eleven questions listed in the July 20, 2012 Commission Order, which do not include the subjects addressed by Mr. Howley. Accordingly, Mr. Howley’s petition to intervene will be denied.

So the WV PSC believes that investigating local solar power and battery back up systems are “outside the scope” of their investigation into the 2012 blackout.  This is why WV remains, literally, in the Dark Ages of reliability innovation.

If you think the Commissioners’ are wrong, and especially if you have a system like mine and did just fine during the 2012 blackout, you might be interested in another part of the Commission’s order:

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Commission will hold a public meeting in
this investigation at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, October 22, 2012 in the Howard M.
Cunningham Hearing Room, Commission offices, 201 Brooks Street, Charleston, West Virginia.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the respondents attend the public meeting to
present their reports in this investigation and answer questions from the Commission, Staff and the intervenors.

If you are interested in educating both the WV PSC and our state’s utilities about innovative, reliable power production, come to the public comment meeting at the PSC’s Charleston offices on October 22.  Your oral comments may be limited by the Commission, so if you want to present longer comments, you should prepare and submit written comments to the PSC at the hearing.

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