True Cause of California Blackout: Aged Power Transmission Infrastructure

In one of the largest blackouts of the past decade, millions of people in parts of Southern California, Arizona and Mexico were without power Thursday night and Friday morning. Amid the flurry of news about the situation, many questions are being asked: Who was the technician who supposedly caused the blackout? What was he actually working on at the Yuma-area substation? How and why did this get past the Yuma area?

However, one of the larger issues surrounding the incident seems to have, in large part, escaped discussion: the instability of our power transmission and distribution system and what is being done to remedy the situation. The past 24 hours have highlighted areas of concern and have shown what happens when aged transmission systems with limited safeguards are left in place.

The situation has hopefully brought to the attention of local, state and federal governments and special interest groups that our electric power grid is truly in great need of upgrading. This is something that utilities have been trying to do over the past decade or longer throughout the United States. Arizona Public Service Company (APS) (Phoenix, Arizona), a subsidiary of Pinnacle West Capital Corporation (NYSE:PNW) (Phoenix), has tried several times to upgrade the North Gila-Imperial Valley 500-kilovolt (kV) transmission line. This proposal has been met with resistance from both environmental and special interest groups in the past. The project was reproposed in 2010 in APS’s 2014 energy plan.

The North Gala-Imperial Valley Line is a single-circuit 500-kV line that is part of the Path 46 setup for the grid. The line runs along Interstate 8, northeast into the Yuma area and into the North Gila Substation. There is currently a plan to upgrade this transmission system with a double-circuit 500-kV line that runs approximately 85 miles, which would include additional 230-kV lines, upgraded controls at existing substations, and the construction of a newer substation with state-of-the-art monitoring equipment.

Another project APS is currently reviewing is a 230-kV loop around the Yuma area that would stabilize and increase the region’s reliability with double- and single-circuit lines running throughout the region. This would call for the rebuilding of the Ligurat-to-Gail line from a 161-kV single-circuit line to a 161-kV double-circuit line.

APS is only one of many utilities across the United States fighting for funding, right-of-way approvals and permitting, all the while fending off attacks from various NIMBYish special interest groups. As part of its North American Power Industry Database, IIR is tracking more than $76 billion in transmission and distribution projects that are in various stages of planning and development throughout the U.S.

On a final note, during the blackout, which affected large metropolitan areas such as San Diego and surrounding counties, generation from companies such as the Los Angles Department of Power and Water (Los Angeles, California), Southern California Edison Company (Rosemead, California), Calpine Corporation (NYSE:CPN) (Houston, Texas) and others helped stabilize outlying areas and aided in providing generation while the internal infrastructure was repaired.

Article Researched by Industrial Info Resources (Sugar Land, Texas)

Industrial Info Resources (IIR) is the leading provider of global market intelligence specializing in the industrial process, heavy manufacturing and energy markets. IIR’s quality-assurance philosophy, the Living Forward Reporting Principle™, provides up-to-the-minute intelligence on what’s happening now, while constantly keeping track of future opportunities.

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