By David Callis, executive vice president and general manager
Looking outside your home, you’ve probably noticed the transformer on the pole (or ground) that supplies your electricity. Transformers are remarkable pieces of equipment. Wires and electromagnetic fields efficiently “transform” 7,200 or 24,000 volts of electricity from transmission lines into the 240 volts that you need. It is deceptively simple.
Your electric cooperative makes power distribution seem much simpler than it actually is behind the scenes. We’ve communicated with you about the Clean Power Plan proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Last year, thousands of you made the effort to communicate your concerns about “keeping the lights on.” Well, you’re not alone. Even though the public comment period ended a few months ago, evaluation of the proposal continues.
In March, a branch of the federal government held a hearing in St. Louis focused on the Clean Power Plan’s impact on the reliability of the electric grid. That hearing was one of a series that is being held throughout the country.
You heard that correctly: One branch of the government is looking into what another branch is doing.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is tasked with protecting “the reliability of the high-voltage interstate transmission system through mandatory reliability.” In short, the commission ensures that our nation’s electric grid can supply the electricity we need to keep the lights on. Its review covers how electricity is generated and transmitted throughout the nation. Part of its oversight responsibility is the impact the Clean Power Plan will have on our ability to keep those lights on. Electric cooperatives from the Midwest participated in the St. Louis hearing by providing testimony on how the plan would affect the reliability of the region’s electric power network.
That happens to be our concern each and every day: a reliable power supply.
To clarify, we’re talking about two aspects of reliability. Your local electric cooperative is concerned about keeping the lights on in your community. We don’t like for you to be in the dark for a single minute, and absent ice storms or tornadoes, we do a very good job of it. Even with storm outages factored into the equation, Tennessee’s electric cooperatives keep electricity flowing to your homes and businesses for all but a few minutes each year.
However, the commission is looking at the big picture: the power supply for the entire country. It’s tasked with asking questions to determine whether enough electricity is being generated throughout the year and if there are enough transmission lines available to safely and efficiently carry that energy where it is needed. Questions along those lines prompted the review of the Clean Power Plan, which could shutter needed power plants in various parts of the nation and could imperil our reliable power grid.
Just like the transformer outside of your home, the folks at your local electric cooperative make a complex and vital process look simple. There’s a lot going on in supplying safe, affordable and reliable electricity. And beyond your local cooperative, there’s even more activity. It doesn’t happen accidentally. It is a process that requires planning, coordination and attention to detail — from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s power plants, across the transmission lines, to the wires, poles and transformers that bring electricity into your home.
As the EPA Clean Power Plan continues its process, we’ll continue to monitor and keep you informed on regulatory action that impacts your everyday life.
As always, our goal is to keep the lights on.
For more information on FERC and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, go to our website, www.tnelectric.org.