Were asking for trouble

Issue 7 and Volume 101.


We`re askingfor trouble

I commend Wade Graves of Western Resources and his article, “We`re asking for trouble,” in the January issue of Power Engineering for speaking out on some of the spoken concerns hidden in the rush to open access/deregulation. This rush seems to be a mantra for editors in both the industry journals and the popular press, as well as our national regulators and some state regulators. This concept will look great for some portions of the country, for some segments of the power generation industry, for some relatively short period of time. But when capacity, reserve and reliability shortfalls begin to arrive, there will be a lot of gnashing of teeth and finger pointing–and seldom at the guilty parties in the mirror. Meanwhile, a lot of small customers (who never even opted for this magic pill of open competition) will suffer–by unreliable service and/or unjustified higher costs.

And because these smaller users will not have the market-control power of the large industries and agglomerations of related mid-size purchasers (e.g., McDonalds`s outlets, schools district consortia, etc.), they will have to carry the burden dumped on them by this hasty rush to deregulation. Buying cars on the free market is truly a reasonable customer option. Even buying unregulated airline service at least offers the option of flying with someone else (increasingly rare cases for many of us), driving or not going–with all the messy pricing and service problems now making a shambles of what was a reliable, comfortable and relatively economical system.

Even unregulated phone service, which we certainly don`t have yet, offers some choices, such as cellphones or forthcoming PC systems. But even now the local phone service, the “friendly local phone company,” couldn`t care less about adequacy of circuits, quality of maintenance and costs for anyone outside of the central business districts of major urban areas. (Try getting USWest to run new lines to ex-urban and rural customers or respond to outages–and they`re still regulated.)

For electric service, there are no alternatives to the local distributor (unless you want to have wires strung everywhere, overhead or underground), and again don`t count on such to be interested in residential and smaller commercial users. Of course, the local utility might retain a noncompetitive role in providing this service–and immediately the proponents of deregulation already propose strict regulation of such! Very few of the forthcoming “merchant power” entrepreneurs (as seemingly championed in Bob Smock`s editorial, op cit.) will want to build capacity–including reserves–to meet the substrate of ordinary domestic needs. There won`t be the margins available, and little considerations of environment or longevity, or wise use of optimum fuels. Why should they? (Until, of course, we have massive power shortages, unreliable service and increasing shortages of gas fuels which make all this seem so wonderful–when either the costs will rise out of sight in order to underwrite the building of coal-fired plants, or until we re-regulate the industry in some fashion, with lots of thrashing and pain.)

However, I must note that I would tend to draw somewhat differing perspectives than Graves as a consequence to all of this. He apparently wants to get on with deregulation and let the chips fall where they may–Western Resources is in position to steal away the prime customers of nearby utilities and laugh at finally strangling its less-able investor-owned utility rivals and those pesky rural utility and municipal competitors. No, I think we need to approach this slowly and cautiously, leaving reasonable regulation in place until the true benefits of open access are clearly founded and the inevitable adversities have been uncovered and resolved, fairly.

B.J. Kirkland

Covenant Engineering

EVs makea comeback

Your March editorial (“EVs make a comeback”) on the comeback of electric vehicles (EV) was amusing. For decades, experts have been confidently issuing futile predictions of great things for the EV. For example, in 1973 the Federal Power Commission forecasted 38 million “electric cars” will be on the road by 1990. (How wrong can you get?) The self-serving prediction by Rick Tempchin of the Edison Electric Institute on page 49 of the March issue of Power Engineering falls into that same category.

Never mind the short cruising range or the recharging difficulties, the real obstacles–as they have been for decades–are the battery costs (and who will pay it if it isn`t in the vehicle price), not only at initial purchase, but at the frequent replacements throughout the EV`s life, and the battery weight.

Your comparison with diesel-electric locomotives is badly flawed. It was not “cleanliness” of “superior starting torque” that gave them the edge. It was the elimination of two major drawbacks to the steam locomotive: the need for engine crew personnel for every locomotive (eliminated by multiple-unit operation of any number of diesel-electric units from a single-cab control point) and the need for frequent water stops (which in the semiarid West is both costly and difficult, as well as time consuming).

Furthermore, the diesel unitcan be started and stopped at will; steam locomotives had to be “fired up” long before train time. Fuelefficiency was also a major dieseladvantage, during years in which petroleum was cheap. On city streets or interstate highways,the EV is not favored by anysuch comparisons.

R.L. Nailen, P.gif.

Hales Corners, WI