In 2017, major weather events tested the resilience of the grid and its ability to recover. Through massive hurricanes, tornadoes and other destructive storm events, we learned that the investments we are making to storm-harden the grid are making a difference by enabling quicker restoration. At the same time, the events that occurred were a sobering reminder of the magnitude of aging infrastructure still on the system – and the magnitude of investments still needed.
One of the greatest threats to reliability of the power grid is weather. In 2017, severe weather took center stage when Hurricane Harvey barreled ashore in Texas.
Resilience is focused on risks and consequences that can come from anywhere. In this case, the risk to resilience of the grid comes from many things, including cyberattacks, electromagnetic disturbances, terrorism, theft, vandalism and supply chain disruptions. All of these things could change how we design and harden the system.
AEP’s investments in local reliability projects enhance grid resilience by replacing vulnerable assets, upgrading the telecommunications network, maintaining spare parts and implementing physical and cyber security standards. Our efforts also improve storm hardness by upgrading older and more susceptible facilities, such as replacing wood structures with steel or improving flood prevention at substations. Telecom system upgrades and AEP’s programs to purchase spare parts also help the company respond to outages faster by identifying problems on the system more quickly and stockpiling the parts needed to bring assets back online following an outage.
One example is when Hurricane Harvey struck the AEP Texas service territory on August 25, 2017. In recent years, new transmission lines in hurricane-prone areas have all been built to modern standards, able to withstand wind speeds up to 140 miles per hour.
During Hurricane Harvey, transmission lines built to these modern standards sustained little to no damage, while many of the lines that suffered damage were older, less-resilient structures, such as wood poles. For example, two parallel lines in the Rockport, Texas area, which was hit by the eye of the hurricane, experienced two very different outcomes.
One of the lines used predominantly older wood poles with only seven steel poles (which were installed to replace deteriorated wood poles). The wood poles all failed in the storm, while only one of the seven steel poles was damaged. The damaged steel pole was only bent and stopped the series of failed wood poles from cascading any further. Across the highway, the parallel line’s steel structures—built to modern standards—remained unharmed.
AEP Texas is now in the process of rebuilding the damaged line to modern standards. AEP’s multi-million-dollar investment to inspect and maintain thousands of wooden power poles and underground electrical structures, along with miles of overhead electrical lines, will help us improve resilience of the distribution system. In addition to the pole program, the overhead line and underground facility inspection programs are designed to identify issues that present potential public safety concerns or likely causes of customer outages.
Hardening, reliability and grid modernization initiatives have garnered support from state utility commissions. This is critical to improving system reliability for all customers.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) proposed a new rule to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), attempting to improve grid reliability and resilience by providing financial incentives aimed at sustaining certain baseload generation plants. While AEP strongly supports the need to maintain a safe, reliable and resilient grid, the industry needs more time to incorporate stakeholder input and develop effective solutions. In January 2018, FERC issued a new order initiating a new proceeding to holistically examine the resilience of the bulk power system.
Transmission is a major contributor to grid resilience and should be included in the evaluation of the grid and potential solutions. We do not believe that resilience should focus solely on generation outages. Investments such as transmission may be a more cost-effective solution to addressing resilience issues than deferring generation unit retirements. AEP believes resilience issues are best handled under a regulated cost-based approach in cooperation with state regulators and FERC – and this is how we’ve provided a reliable and resilient system to meet our customers’ needs for more than a century.