Friday, October 23, 2020

Agenda Giveaways

     Sad to say, these days there aren’t many questions that don’t have a political component. Politics has crept into places where it never was before and – in the great majority of cases – doesn’t belong. I’ve written about the reasons for this in the past, so I shan’t bore you this morning by repeating myself.

     Among the most egregious cases of politics where it doesn’t belong are those that pertain to science and / or technology. Some of the political players manage to disguise their agendas better than others, which is why I’m writing on this subject. It’s vital that Americans who want to see clearly be equipped to detect a political agenda in an issue that “should” rest on purely rational considerations.

     One I have in mind this morning, courtesy of Glenn Reynolds, is the nature of electrical power generation and distribution. The U.S. has three distinct power distribution regions, or “grids.” One services East of the Rockies; one services West of the Rockies; and one services the state of Texas. There are people who see this as a problem. Why? What advantages would accrue to American electrical power consumers were the three grids to be integrated?

     This article in IEEE Spectrum discusses the subject – in a politicized way. It’s fairly long, but if you have the stamina I suggest that you read it for yourself rather than take my word for its orientation.

     The article is in the form of an interview, but it doesn’t take long to detect that putative interviewer Steven Cherry is entirely in agreement with interviewee Peter Fairley that the grids “should” be integrated. It doesn’t take much longer to detect Fairley’s agenda. All one must do is note the occurrences of words and phrases about highly politicized pseudo-issues:

  • Wind farms
  • Climate change
  • Renewable energy
  • “move off of our largely carbon-based sources of power”
  • “accelerate the shutdown of coal-fired power”
  • “U.S. administration’s connections to—devotion to—the coal industry.”
  • “the oil and gas industry is definitely also a major political backer of the Trump administration.”
  • “states have their own public utility commission that has to approve new power lines.”
  • “making renewable energy look less competitive.”
  • “the Trump administration...violates DOE’s own scientific integrity policies”
  • “recognize the huge challenge that climate change poses and to change the way we live and to change our energy system”

     At several points Fairley asserts that “the financial and reliability benefits are substantial” and that the integration of the three grids would “pay for itself.” Yet he adduces no evidence to that effect. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado did a study that says so; that’s enough for him.

     Notice also that there are questions that interviewer Cherry never bothers to ask:

What’s the downside to integration?
What would it cost?
What disruptions would it involve?
How long would they last?
What new vulnerabilities would it create?
Who would be affected and to what degree?

     The failure to ask those questions is the deadest of dead giveaways. Cherry is no more a disinterested interviewer than Fairley – a journalist, not a scientist nor engineer – is a disinterested student of the subject.

     The subject is interesting and complex from a technological standpoint, but even more so from a political perspective. A single, nationwide grid would naturally come under the control of some federal agency. How would that control be used? What constraints and what oversight would apply? Would power producers have equal, unbiased access to the grid, or would there be wheeling and dealing to exclude disfavored competitors? Would the state governments have any role? Who would be held liable for anything that might go wrong?

     This has been an agenda-detection study in the public interest – the real public interest, in which the public is presumed interested in what might be done to it, under what rationales, and who would make out like bandits as a consequence.

     Beware him who offers you something for nothing, something that’s all upside and no downside, something “too good to be true.” For that, too, is a giveaway.


Rick T said...

Regarding grid integration vs. resilience: ONE mis-set protective relay at Sir Adam Beck Generating Station #2 triggered the 1965 Great Northeast blackout. One error that triggered cascading failures as generators went off line and the load shifted and overloaded the surviving capacity.

Also, because the grid in Texas does not and will not cross state lines the Feds have no jurisdiction, and it makes them crazy. My late father was an IEEE Fellow who specialized in power distribution and protection for over 30 years. He had at least one group of Feds approach him with outlandish theories that if a Texas generator fed power to a Federal facility that made them subject to Federal control. He laughed them out of the room.

Linda Fox said...

May I suggest watching Live Free or Die Hard? An entertaining look at what the downsides of integrated grids are.
I lived it, back when First Energy brought down the grid in the Northeast/Mideast for 4 days.
You don't realize all the ways you're connected until it hits.
Just ONE thing: do you have a HARD COPY backup of your phone numbers? Without the web, we'd have no way to get in touch with distant family, even if they had landlines.
FIRST, harden the grid against EMP, AND get excellent security against e-intrusion, AND beef up the security on the various components - lines, substations, operating locations - both in city, and isolated.
Run SERIOUS security checks on all employees, including their social media. Do I think it's likely that they've already embedded moles into the companies? Hell, yes.

Reg T said...

We might also consider the effect of an EMP event - nuclear or a version of the Carrington Event - as being far more likely to destroy the entire grid if it is all connected. I recently read a novel wherein the Texas grid survived an event precipitated by Iran (on the East Coast) together with North Korea (on the West Coast). Texas still had serious issues even with an intact grid - such as a Federal attempt to force Texas to take in many millions of people from the rest of the country, far more than they could possibly sustain), as well as a large number of NK commandos who had pre-positioned in Canada (British Columbia, with a large Asian population they could hide amongst) who traveled to Texas to destroy _their_ grid manually.

By the way, I used to live rather close to Fran on Long Island, and was there for the blackout you mentioned. I understand there was a significant increase in the number of births nine months later. The increase in crime was miniscule compared to what it would be these days, when you factor in the looters, vandals, arsonists, and rapists ready to leap into action at the drop of a hat.