Archive for the ‘Power Outages’ Category


The online magazine Transmission & Distribution World today re-ran an earlier article on the dangers faced by electric utility workers. Though it describes a really brutal accident, it merits reading if only to be reminded about the danger that some workers face every day as part of their job — more dangerous than police and fire. You can read the full article here.


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NYC Substation

The New York Times today reported that Russian hackers had gained access to nuclear plants and electricity grid controls, and would have been able to shut off the power in the United States at will.

That is deadly serious stuff.

More amazing still, it was the Trump Administration, that leveled the accusation against Russia. Putin may regard that as an act of disloyalty by Trump, perhaps triggering his release of kompromat on the Donald.

Perhaps he’ll announce a 25% tariff on Steele dossiers.

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Putin - exasperated

Yes Vlad, oil prices are all the way down there.

About this time last year, the Sparkspread pointed out that Vladimir Putin had overlooked Energy Rule Numero Uno when he re-annexed Crimea to Russia sixty years after Khruschev gave it back to Ukraine. That rule is that energy is all about infrastructure. So, before you invade a country with the ultimate goal of ruling it (and therefore, of necessity, administering it in one fashion or another), you should make sure you understand the target territory’s energy infrastructure.

This is something Putin notably forgot to do. Crimea has four power plants that aggregate to a rather puny 327MW in nameplate capacity, but demand in Crimea ranges from 850MW to 1250MW in winter, depending on the severity of the season.

The math is easy. More than 80% of Crimea’s commodity electricity supply is under the control of Kiev, and Kiev, being the capital of Ukraine, takes a rather dim view of Volodya’s revanchism.

The maps are pretty easy too. The little Isthmus of Perekop, which connects Crimea to Ukraine, is a chokepoint with two main transmission lines that supply the Crimean peninsula.


Electric transmission lines into Crimea

Wait… Did we say that Kiev controls the electricity supply? Not so fast. Over the past week or so, saboteurs have blown up power lines in southern Ukraine, which have plunged Russian-annexed Crimea into an energy crisis. About 2 million Crimeans are now relying on emergency generators. This proves the point the Sparkspread made last November: Crimea depends almost entirely on Ukraine for energy.

And that’s not Putin’s only headache. Under Russian law, using drafted Russian soldiers outside the borders of Russia requires the soldiers’ consent. (Of course, “Russian law,” along with “moderate rebel” and “limited nuclear war,” enters the language as one of the 21st Century’s new oxymorons.) The fighting in Ukraine produced about 2000 dead and 3200 wounded Russian soldiers. Hmmm… How to explain that? Injured in training? That’s a tough sell. That many dead and disabled soldiers in a war of choice presents a fundamental question of political sustainability of the conflict at home, even if home is a totalitarian state. Vlad might give a call to Dubbaya if he has any doubts.

Oil prices stayed low. U.S. and European sanctions started to affect the Russian economy. Just as von Schrotter described Prussia as an army with a country, Russia can be imagined as an army with oil fields and natural gas reserves. But under sanctions, drilling for new reserves and maintaining the production equipment on existing fields became far more difficult. Putin’s oil oligarchs and their apparatchiks have had their hands full trying to maintain Russian oil production in both quantity and quality.

Vladimir had to weigh the costs and benefits of his Crimean campaign. Better to cut his losses on Crimea, leaving matters to the resident separatists, and focus on a new adventure.

Like Syria, maybe.

This past February, Putin and Peroshenko, Ukraine’s president, inked the Minsk II accord, which at least implemented a cease-fire, more or less. Peroshenko had to recognize his country’s loss of certain territory in Ukraine to pro-Russian separatists, and the deal allowed Putin to pull the Russian army out without too much loss of face. Putin’s proxy war through Russian-leaning separatists continued in full swing, of course, but since the Russian pull-out the separatists’ battles have not yielded any significant territorial gains beyond what was already obtained through Minsk II.

Kiev is not in control of rebuilding the transmission lines in Ukraine. Ethnic Tatars, whose parents and grandparents were forcibly deported by Stalin at the end of WWII, and Ukrainian nationalists have blocked repair teams. So far, authorities in Kiev have not tried to force the issue.

Putin is now accusing Ukraine of “torturing” Crimeans with the power cuts. Russia has responded by cutting coal deliveries to Ukraine. Coal sales are one thing, but he hasn’t shut off natural gas yet. Russia needs the natural gas revenues as much as it ever did, but escalation is always possible. But if Putin presses too hard on Ukraine, he’ll just unite Ukrainians against him politically.

As the winter sets in, this should provide some great political theater.

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Yesterday on the U.S. Senate floor, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) and Mary Landrieu (D., Louisiana) officially elevated the status of discussions of electric grid security from brouhaha to donnybrook. The senators criticized Jon Wellinghoff, FERC’s immediate past chair, for providing “sensational” if not “reckless” comments to the Wall Street Journal on flaws in the security of the grid.

The Sparkspread discussed this issue in its March 13, 2014 entry, specifically referring to a FERC analysis of grid power flows that concluded that disabling just nine substations in different regions could lead to a nationwide blackout that could last for weeks, if not months.

Senator Murkowski also called for an investigation into who leaked this information to the Wall Street Journal.

Wellinghoff fired back, stating that there was no classified information in the report, and that he and other FERC officials briefed hundreds of people in the utility industry across the country.

As the Sparkspread pointed out, the idea of attacks on a nation’s power grid are hardly new. Bombardment of Nazi Germany’s generation infrastructure was considered but ultimately not prioritized during WWII.  Amory and Hunter Lovins detailed the risks in their 1982 book, “Brittle Power,” which can be read on the web. It would be ironic if a detailed review of the FERC report revealed extensive reliance on the Lovins’s work from thirty years ago.  That these unknown persons carried out an attack on a substation shows that they already know about these flaws in grid security. This looks less like a leak and more like an effort to build awareness of the risk within the industry. If the House Republicans accuse Wellinghoff of involvement with Benghazi, we’ll know how serious this is.

Read the story here:

Wellinghoff fires back at ENR leaders on grid security study – Lesser prairie chicken gets ‘threatened’ designation – Obama in Saudi Arabia – POLITICO Morning Energy – POLITICO.com.

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The WSJ reports that under a FERC analysis model, concurrent attacks by saboteurs on only 9 key transformers could cause a prolonged nation-wide blackout:

U.S. Risks National Blackout From Small-Scale Attack – WSJ.com.

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The Wall St. Journal reports that the U.S. electric grid could take months to recover from a physical attack due to the difficulty in replacing one of its most critical components:

via Transformers Expose Limits In Securing Power Grids – WSJ.com.

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Hurricane Sandy continues its impact on the energy and utility sector.

The Columbia Climate Law Blog reports that the New York State Public Service Commission unanimously approved a settlement requiring Con Edison, New York City’s major electric utility, to implement measures to protect its electric, gas and steam systems from the effects of climate change.

Climate Law Blog » Blog Archive » Public Service Commission Approves Con Ed Rate Case and Climate Change Adaptation Settlement.

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