MD PSC Pushed to Begin Transition to Microgrid Power Distribution

Remember my experience at the WV PSC last fall?  Following their investigation of one of the biggest distribution system failures in WV in recent memory, the WV PSC completely ignored any suggestions that they begin investigating microgrid technology, even in a very limited way, to build a genuinely strong electrical system in WV.

Well, on March 5, Roger Berliner, Chairman of the Montgomery, MD County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee filed a petition with the MD PSC to develop a new plan for rebuilding MD’s electrical distribution system:

Some systems age gracefully so that age itself isn’t a fundamental problem. However, our utility system is not only old, but it doesn’t come close to producing the results we should demand of our distribution grid in 2013. Instead, it is extraordinarily wasteful, rigid, environmentally degrading, vulnerable, and economically draining. And while the precise path forward may be debatable, there is enough real world experience both here at home and abroad to have confidence that a different and far more satisfying future can be ours. We can, and we should, have a system that allows for the innovations that entrepreneurs unleash using the grid as a portal — a decentralized, less vulnerable system; more reliant on distributed generation and renewables; more efficient; less carbon emitting; and very consumer directed.

Mr. Berliner notes that the MD PSC required MD’s power companies to spend more on right of way maintenance, as did the WV PSC, after the summer 2012 blackouts.  As I did here on The Power Line, Mr. Berliner points out that rate payer money would be much better spent on real change, rather than temporary fixes.

The Berliner petition is short and to the point, and well worth the read.  Change is coming, and the pressure for real solutions will not stop.

And Mr. Berliner isn’t talking pie in the sky.  This is real world stuff.  As I have noted before, microgrids in New York functioned continuously throughout major blackouts during Hurricane Sandy.  Mr. Berliner knows exactly what he is asking the PSC to do:

Good minds have been working on this issue intensely for a number of years now.  Petitioner attaches hereto as exhibit 1 a copy of the Perfect Power Institute’s March 2012 document, “Investing in Grid Modernization, The Business Case for Empowering Consumers, Communities and Utilities.”  Therein the authors, including a respected former utility executive, argue for a system that includes, but is not limited to:

  • Infrastructure upgrades focusing on local substation automation, circuit looping, smart switches, and undergrounding;
  • Distributed clean energy such as solar, biogas, electricity storage, and gas fired cogeneration;
  • Smart meters and a basic home automation package that includes web-enabled energy management tools with the capacity to reduce loads;
  • Dynamic pricing that allows consumers to respond to real time price signals and unleashes innovation;
  • A market where residential, commercial, and industrial customers can also become electricity suppliers and sellers of ancillary services such as demand response, day-ahead markets, capacity markets, and power quality services.

At the heart of such a system is a series of micro-grids: “the system architecture that achieves smart grid benefits and value most cost-effectively…is the smart microgrid.”  Petitioner recently toured the Food & Drug Administration’s micro-grid in Silver Spring. Constructed and run by Honeywell under an energy services performance contract, that microgrid system has achieved 99.999 percent reliability over the past 12 months. Operations have not been interrupted by weather. Not once. In addition, the system is more energy efficient, produces less carbon, and generates net revenue. While the FDA microgrid does include solar, gas-fired cogeneration is at the core of this, and many other, microgrids. Clearly, the FDA campus is large, but microgrids are scalable. Several months ago Petitioner hosted a forum for large Montgomery County developers to introduce them to the business case for providing their commercial and residential tenants cleaner and more reliable power through microgrids and gasfired cogeneration. And microgrids can be scaled for residential neighborhoods and communities.

Meanwhile, here in WV, the Legislature, in consultation with power company lobbyists, has blocked all legislation designed to promote grid resiliency and efficiency.  Legislators even defeated an extension of WV’s tax credit for residential renewable power systems.  And, of course, the Manchin Alternative and Renewable Portfolio Standard continues to suppress decentralized renewable power development in WV.

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