Fighting Defeatism About Reliability and Industry Obstruction in WV

The State Journal ran two other good stories last week, one by Taylor Kuykendall about power companies and blackouts and the other by Pam Kasey about roadblocks to real reliability, largely thrown up by former Gov. Manchin’s ARPS and the WV PSC.

The theme of Kuykendall’s story, because it is told from the point of view of power companies and the PSC, is essentially defeatist when it comes to the distribution blackouts that have hit WV more and more frequently in the last three years.   Here is the lead paragraph:

Bury them, fortify them, clear them of trees — all of these things make a line less susceptible to compromise, but in the end, getting used to the occasional outage may just be reality.

A little more research would have revealed that the collapse of WV’s distribution system didn’t just happen.  Here is former Allegheny Energy CEO Paul Evanson bragging to investment bankers about Allegheny’s failure to invest in distribution system maintenance back in 2009:

Our plan is to keep [inaudible] O&M [Operations & Maintenance] flat marking the fifth consecutive year of no increase in costs, an accomplishment I think few can match.

Nor did the article mention the fact that in the 2000s, the WV PSC gave Allegheny Energy the right to charge us rate payers, in advance, for right of way maintenance that never happened.  Read expert testimony in a later rate case at this link in which this scam was exposed.

WV’s distribution system got into its current condition for a wide variety of reasons, which include deliberate neglect by power companies and lack of vigilance by the WV PSC.

Kuykendall interviewed WV PSC engineer Don Walker for his story.  Walker was the author of the report that forced AEP and FirstEnergy to agree to reliability standards for the first time in WV history.  While Walker is careful not to claim that new standards will not have a direct impact on blackout prevention, the story leaves the impression that the standards will reduce blackouts in WV.  In fact, the calculation of reliability performance in the new WV system, specifically excludes unusual events, including storms.  So, while day to day reliability will be under scrutiny, storm resilience will not.

In her story, Pam Kasey documents an example of how West Virginians can create their own more reliable power systems — and how WV’s Alternative and Renewable Portfolio Standard is holding state power producers back, a story that I covered on The Power Line a few weeks ago.  In contrast to WV’s obstructionism, Kasey provides a good look at what is going on in neighboring states where innovation and real reliability investment is encouraged by state policies.  Here is her account of how renewable energy credits are used by AEP (yes, that AEP, APCo’s parent company) to help solar producers pay their upfront investment costs:

It also differs from Ohio, where an AEP-Ohio offer that responds to that state’s RPS not only reduces payback time but eases the up-front burden. The utility will pay part of a homeowner’s installation cost based on a couple of formulas, according to Alternative Energy Resources Manager Mark Gundelfinger — one of which is half of the cost up to $12,000 — in return for the system’s RECs.

But West Virginians are stuck with their power company/PSC fatalism that nothing will ever get better.  There are better ways for all of us to improve the reliability of our electrical system.  It just ain’t happening in WV.

3 thoughts on “Fighting Defeatism About Reliability and Industry Obstruction in WV

    • That’s a small part of the problem, that we can’t ignore, but I think there is a larger problem. The WV PSC has grown up with the two large conglomerates that control electricity in WV – American Electric Power and FirstEnergy (formerly Allegheny Energy). The PSC has never seen its role as directing the quality and future of WV’s electrical system. Instead, the PSC has seen its role as responding to what the power companies say they want to do. The power companies always have the initiative here. The PSC has no independent will to act. We have tried to give them the tools, like Integrated Resource Planning, but they don’t seem to want them. They are comfortable with their passivity.

      The Legislature is unwilling to give the PSC these tools. We have seen what has happened with the ARPS. Last year, the Legislature bowed to power company lobbyists and killed a weak IRP bill. In the statutes directing the PSC, the Legislature actually tells the PSC that they are required to protect the interests of the coal industry.

      There is lots of responsibility to go around here.

      Back to your original question, it would be very helpful if Allegheny Energy’s former lawyer was not the Chairman of the PSC.

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