Rolling Blackouts: The Red Flag of Energy
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
April 24, 2006

When my thermostat hit 101 degrees on April 17, I was a little surprised and knew we were in for a long hot summer from now through September. What I did not know is how ill-prepared our State was for this degree of heat so soon. Power companies throughout the state imposed the blackouts Monday because of an electricity shortage during unseasonably hot weather. Untold numbers of people were caught without electricity for short periods of time as highs reached into the low 100s.

According to CBS News during this blackout, "As much as 15 percent of the state's power supply was already off line for seasonal maintenance to brace for the summer's energy usage peaks. Four power generating plants also shut down unexpectedly. Officials were pushing to get power flowing again from the generators that had been idled. The typical usage for Texas in April is about 40,000 megawatts a day, but the state pushed 52,000 megawatts on Monday, said Paul Wattles, spokesman for Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which runs the state's electricity grid. The rollouts were limited to the ERCOT grid, which provides electricity to about 80 percent of the state."

It is just this insufficiency and unreliability or unavailability of critical energy that drives much of my interest in this subject. That is why I have discussed "net metering", the process of generating usually renewable energy and spinning the excess electricity if any, into the grid and the energy company paying the generator it. I have also discussed the importance of "distributed generation" that generates electricity at or near where it is used in addition to and it contrast with the central power plant model we have all grown up with.

Many have said, "The price of photovoltaic or solar energy driven electricity or solar thermal, hot water heating are not competitive." I must ask, "What is the price of energy when you can't get any?" According to an article written by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a blackout costs Sun Microsystems "up to $1 million per minute." Hewlett-Packard reported that "a 20-minute outage at a circuit-fabrication plant would result in a day's production loss at a cost of $30 million."

The NREL also reported that the cost of power outages for selected commercial customers is:

Brokerage Operations: $6,480,000 per hour

Credit Card Operations: $2,480,000 per hour

Airline Reservations: $90,000 per hour

Telephone Ticket Sales: $72,000 per hour

Cellular Communications: $41,000 per hour

In addition to our conventional energy coming from our power plants, the three-legged stool of energy sufficiency is 1. efficiency, 2. conservation and 3. use of renewables.

I want to congratulate CPS, the City, Bexar County, San Antonio Water System (SAWS) and VIA for its support for Solar San Antonio and the Metropolitan Partnership for Energy (MPE) as they promote ways to achieve greater efficiency, dependability by not over-relying on our power plants alone and clean energy which results from their support for the three options on top of our conventional power plant source of energy

Working together to transform old ways into more relevant-to-the-times and enlightened ways is fundamental to our surviving and thriving as a society!

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