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Electricity delivery problems open doors for others in Tulsa

By RUSSELL RAY

Nov. 20, 2000 (Tulsa World)—Faced with escalating electric bills and a rising threat of blackouts, more businesses are finding they can reduce costs and improve reliability by making their own electricity.

Distributed generation — homegrown electricity delivered with little or no reliance on the nation’s transmission grid — limits the risk of blackouts for businesses that rely on a continuous flow of power, said Mory Houshmand, director of Williams Distributed Power Services, a subsidiary of the Tulsa-based Williams Co. Inc.

The technology, Houshmand said, could someday match the significance of the cell phone.

“The present electric supply and transmission system was designed 100 years ago,” he said. “It was for a society that, in my opinion, was considerably different. The grid is just not adequate anymore.”

The Internet and other digital technologies are straining the nation’s outdated system, Houshmand said.

California, which imports about 25 percent of its electricity, faced a power supply deficit this past summer. California electric bills nearly tripled as power supplies fell to dangerous levels. Another summer of tight supplies is expected in 2001.

Power generation systems, such as those provided by Williams, could fill the void in California and other power-starved markets.

Fueled by natural gas and diesel, Williams’ generation units can be used by hospitals, airports, manufacturing plants, oil companies and electric utilities. Among other things, Williams provides mobile generation units with a capacity of 2,000 kilowatts each.

“That’s big enough to supply a town of 2,500 people,” Houshmand said.

For electric wholesalers, the portable technology can help them meet peak demand.

For example, several of Williams’ mobile generation units were dispatched last summer to Georgia, where residents and businesses faced sparse power supplies. The added generation helped the state’s electric cooperatives avoid electric brownouts, Houshmand said. Additionally, the electric cooperatives in Georgia were able to keep their costs down because they did not have to pay high market prices for new supplies.

Growing concern over the nation’s faltering electric system prompted Baldor Electric Co., based in Fort Smith, Ark., to buy Pow’r Gard Generator Corp. of Oshkosh, Wis. With annual sales of $25 million, Pow’r Gard manufactures and markets backup power generators.

“A lot of people are concerned about the reliability of power today,” said John McFarland, president and chief executive officer of Baldor, a manufacturer of electric motors.

Distributed generation can prevent millions of dollars in blackout damages to businesses that depend on a continuous supply of electricity, McFarland said.

“If you’ve got a milk barn where cows have to be milked, you can’t go without electricity,” he said.

The backup generators made by Pow’r Gard are designed for homes and small businesses. But McFarland said the company plans to make larger units designed to serve industrial operations.

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