Blogs > Power to the People

Following energy issues in the state of Connecticut and beyond.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"What We Have Here Is...Failure To Communicate"

It’s never a good sign when the people charged with running New England electric grid, a complex job if there every was one, say that they don’t fully understand their own forecasting software.

Yet, that is apparently just what happened to the people at ISO-New England, if the story they put forth Tuesday is to be believed.

Since April 10th, the Holyoke, Mass.-based grid operator has had comparatively little to say while Connecticut officials complained that ISO-NE failed to prevent two unnamed power plant operators from pocketing $85.8 million for power that they never actually put into the system. Drawing from ISO-NE’s own March 20th filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Connecticut’s Department of Public Utility Control and the state’s Office of Consumer Counsel said the power plant operators failed to deliver power when requested on 108 separate occasions.

Of course, now ISO-NE is clarifying its FERC filing, saying that it never actually requested the power generators to provide the electricity on those occasions and that the payments were legitimately made over 26 months on occasions when it need to guarantee that the region had enough power to keep the lights on.

“The data regarding the energy delivery was never fully understood,” said Ellen Foley, an ISO-NE spokeswoman, referring to forecasting software that is used to determine the region’s electric needs. Control room operators at ISO-NE also use real-time information that Foley claims allowed them to determine on those 108 occasions that the demand for power - which had been projected by the forecasting software - wasn’t as great as had been expected.

Grid operators determined no additional power supply was needed on those occasions and so none was actually requested to be delivered, according to Foley.

Of course, cynics among us might be tempted to say that ISO-NE’s explanation might have had something to do with Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s filing of a complain with FERC and his plan to launch an anti-trust investigation into the matter.

Neither Blumenthal nor Gov. M. Jodi Rell are buying the ISO-NE’s explanation. And perhaps, FERC officials may not be either; agency officials agreed to hear Blumenthal’s complain immediately, something sources tell me doesn’t usually happen.

Of course it’s possible that there were legitimate mistakes made and by early Tuesday evening, Foley was saying that ISO-NE’s management was going to “undertake a rigorous review of internal processes and will make improvements where necessary.”

But you have to wonder if the biggest mistake ISO-NE officials made wasn’t to deal on a more candid basis with Connecticut officials, once this matter became public.
If mistakes were made, own up to them and work together with Connecticut officials toward a solution.

Instead, they developed what can best be described as bunker mentality in this matter and did nothing to dispel the notion that some people in Connecticut have of ISO-NE - that it has the interests of power providers and utilities at heart rather than those of ratepayers in the region.

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