We have seen that the need for new transmission lines can be reduced by decreasing peak demand for power through demand side management. There is another way that we can make new transmission projects unnecessary.
We now have electrical power generating technologies that allow us to create a safer, less polluting, more reliable electrical grid based on local diversified generating plants. Many of these new technologies are well adapted to producing peak load power, exactly what the PJM engineers say is causing the problem in their grid management.
Building large coal-fired plants far from customers and shipping “coal by wire” hundreds of miles is an inherently insecure and unreliable system. The bigger the transmission system, the greater the potential for power instability on the grid and the more difficult it is to bring the system up after system failures. The 2003 blackout in the Northeast was caused more by the interconnectedness of the massive transmission grid than it was by any technical failures in transmission lines. More and bigger lines will only make things worse.
A truly secure system would include many different kinds of generating sources that in many cases overlap and provide redundancy. These generators would also be very small scale so they could be located close to population centers where power demand is highest.
Rather than building huge transmission lines, new emphasis would be placed on power distribution and switching rather than bulk transmission of electricity. No single failure or sudden demand for peak power on this “distributed grid” would affect many people beyond a small area, and, with sophistocated distribution technologies, power could be rerouted and re-established relatively quickly.
Distributed generation provides a strong, resilient grid that can respond immediately to peaking loads. Massive power lines like PATH dramatically magnify the risks involved with weather damage, power flow instability and sabotage.
Despite the fact that PJM and FERC pricing rules actively discourage new generating technologies on the east coast, new generation has been growing steadily from North Carolina to New York, mainly in the form of gas-fired power plants that are uniquely designed to meet peak demand.
The construction of new power plants on the east coast is actually a much more efficient and cost effective way to solve PJM’s reliability problems. If the east coast is providing its own power, that power doesn’t need new power lines to import it from WV and OH.
Here is what Robert Driscoll, the CEO of Mirant Mid-Atlantic, said in his critical comments to PJM about PATH in 2007:
Furthermore, assuming that the A-K Project is designed to move generation from the west to east, it is simply not cost-effective to build this line when there is no evidence to the contrary that generation can still be built in the east without the need for a $1.8 billion project to move the power to market. For example, for the same $378 million annual payment, approximately 1,500 MW of clean, state-of-the-art gas-fired combined cycle power plants could be constructed near load in the east. That amount is nearly twice the capacity proposed for retirement in the PEPCO zone and approximately 10% of the capacity currently in the queue for the Mid-Atlantic region.2
That argument alone should be enough to stop PATH.