Electric grid operator PJM OKs $87 million in upgrades

Reliability given priority since U.S.-Canada outage

July 16, 2004|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

The operator of the power grid that serves Maryland and seven other states said yesterday that it has given the go-ahead for $87 million in upgrades to the electric transmission system to ensure reliable electric service for the region's 35 million customers.

PJM Interconnection, an independent system operator that monitors high-voltage transmission lines in the region, said it approved the upgrades - to be made either by utilities or power plant developers - as part of a continuing process to improve the grid.

PJM oversees the system in all or parts of Maryland, Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

"Investing in the grid is critical to enhancing reliability," said Phillip G. Harris, PJM president and chief executive officer.

Grid reliability has become a hot topic after last August's blackout in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States and Canada, which cut power to 50 million people. An investigative task force found a combination of human error and alarm system malfunctions at First Energy Corp. in Ohio was the cause of what turned into a cascading blackout, the worst in the nation's history.

No mandatory reliability standards are in place, but such standards have been proposed as part of energy legislation pending in Congress.

As a regional transmission organization, PJM has both the regional perspective to identify the most effective improvements as well as the authority to require improvements, because member companies agree to abide by PJM's standards when they join, Harris said.

"There's concern about making sure there's investment made in the transmission system to maintain reliability," said Ray E. Dotter, a PJM spokesman. "The process we have in place looks out to the future about five years ... and says what do we have to have in place so the system continues to meet reliability standards in the future."

Part of the $87 million will pay to connect 26 generation projects to the grid, adding 1,100 megawatts of generation capacity - enough to power nearly 1 million homes. PJM has not identified the specific projects. In addition, part will go to transmission system upgrades required by PJM to maintain reliability and meet future demand. The investments will be made by the developers of the projects, each of whom must pay the cost of upgrades to interconnect with the grid, or by utilities that are being required to upgrade distribution lines.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. is planning projects to enhance reliability of downtown Baltimore's electric supply and to accommodate growth, Robert W. Gould, a BGE spokesman, said. But it is unclear exactly which or how much of those projects are included in the upgrades announced by PJM.

PJM approved its first Regional Transmission Expansion Plan four years ago, and approves new upgrades each year. Under the plan, $785 million in transmission investments have been approved, while nearly 100 generation projects adding up to 13,000 megawatts have been connected to the PJM grid.

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