Monthly Archives: September 2011

SW Power Outage

I was surprised to hear of the large power outage across the Southwest last night.

Power was out from Yuma, AZ to San Diego, CA and into parts of Mexico. Approximately 5 million people were in a blackout – which started right around 4pm, in the heat of the afternoon and the start of rush-hour traffic.

According to the news reports and statements from APS, the outage was triggered by a worker who was removing some monitoring equipment at a sub-station in Yuma – the equipment had apparently not been working correctly. It must have been behaving very badly for the utility to send out a worker to remove it during the peak time of a hot summer day. The worst case scenario expected by APS was for a blackout in Yuma, AZ. That the outage spread to San Diego and Mexico was unexpected, and will be the focus of their outage investigation.

Back in 2009, there were talks about upgrading the US Transmission grid. An example of one plan is found at NPR.org. In the picture from NPR, if you click the Proposed Lines “off”, you can see that the San Diego area has only one medium sized transmission line feeding it – coming directly from Yuma, AZ.

Most of the power is back on this morning, and airports are beginning to recover from the disruption. But, maybe it’s time to revisit the idea of upgrading the US transmission grid?

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Room for Solar

The first article I read today was about large scale solar, and the issues around finding enough land. Stepping through a few more items in my inbox, I see this: “A Solar Re-Skin at [The Redskin’s] FedEx Field”
(a month old, but still making the rounds in various newsletters)

I did the economic analysis for residential solar panels a few years ago for a friend who lived in Arizona. At that time – before massive federal incentives – you could break even on installing solar panels on a new house. For a new house, the added capital costs were expected to be approximately $300/month over a 30 year mortgage to cover a $300/month electric bill. So to me, it seems like a no-brainer for new developments to include solar panels by default.

Retrofits like the one being done at the Redskin’s stadium may cost more, but with current incentive programs it can still make economic sense for the owners, and from an image standpoint it’s great marketing.

And if you’re into job creation, the incentive programs for small-scale solar could put a lot of people to work. Here in Washington state, there are additional incentives for solar installations – but the equipment must all be manufactured within the state to get the maximum payback rates. The policy with the incentives was put together as a jobs bill, not an energy bill.

With all the current incentives for solar power, I think it might be worth looking to see if we can find a little bit of room.

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