PowerPoints, November 2003

Power Grid Issues Vary Across America

Southern systems are stronger, more modern

The electrical blackout that swept across much of the Northeast on August 14, putting more than 50 million people in the dark, came with little warning and dealt a surprising, unwelcome blow to the region’s economy.

Nearly three months later, officials have yet to pinpoint the actual cause that triggered the cascading event. Possibly it was the electric industry’s “perfect storm,” a combination of events and circumstances that came together in a freakish, once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

Fortunately for Mississippi and other Southern states, the rolling blackout did not directly affect this region’s economy nor subject its residents to the inconveniences that accompany a widespread loss of electricity. However, the impact of the blackout, especially because of its effects on New York City, has produced concerns about the reliability of the nation’s electrical transmission system.

“While we can never guarantee such an event will not take place here, the modern generating and transmission infrastructure now in place across much of the South should reduce the chances for a similar event in our region,” said Kurt Brautigam, Mississippi Power spokesman. “Companies in our region have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years to upgrade transmission lines and build generating plants to mitigate the possibility of an energy shortage.

“As a result, reserve margins of generating capacity are much higher in the Southeast than in other parts of the country, so our systems are not as overloaded as some in other regions,” said Brautigam. “We’ve also continued to add more transmission capacity to keep up with the demands of our customers. All those facilities have sophisticated sensing and protection equipment. We believe it would take a series of significant, unexpected events to cause an outage like the one that occurred in the Northeast.”

Mississippi Power owns and operates 2,000 miles of transmission lines and more than 6,000 miles of distribution lines. The entire system is automated and continually monitored for potential problems, with personnel at the Transmission Control Center and the Distribution Operations Center observing the system 24/7.

Mississippi Power and other electric utilities in the South operate in a regulated environment that has been in place for decades, ensuring reliable service and rates lower than the national average. Other parts of the country, especially in the Northeast, have attempted to shift to a competitive, re-regulated system that allows more options for where customers can buy electricity but less overall accountability from those companies sharing the grid system.

“Our customers know who to call when they have trouble with their service,” said Brautigam. “We’re responsible for meeting their electric needs—providing reliable service and planning and building our system to ensure we can meet those needs now and in the future.”

Nationally, however, the electrical transmission system has pockets of problems. “Saying the system is dilapidated, as some observers did after the blackout, is probably overstating it,” said Brautigam. “But some areas of the country are overloaded, and it’s going to cost a lot of money to install the facilities necessary to make them as strong as they need to be. The question is who should pay for those improvements.”

The recent push at the national level and from some of the states that were affected by the blackout is to create an open, national transmission system. Such discussions could result in utility companies in one region—like the South, which has a surplus of energy—generating and sending energy to other parts of the country without sufficient compensation.

“We feel it is fundamentally unfair that our region and our customers should have to help pay for modernizing another region’s transmission system,” said Brautigam. “If ‘nationalizing’ the grid leads to companies in the Southeast being forced to build additional transmission systems to move energy to other regions of the country, customers here could face escalating electricity costs.

“With these energy issues being considered at the national level, naturally, there are differing views about what the national policies need to be,” Brautigam said. “But we need to be aware of how the issues affect each region. Ultimately, as decisions are made, we would hope that the investments we’ve made to serve our customers will be protected and that we’ll be able to maintain our current high levels of reliability and customer service.”

Customers can again sign up for Project Share

Beginning in November, Mississippi Power is offering its customers another opportunity to sign up for Project Share, a nationally recognized program used to help elderly, handicapped, medically disabled or other customers in need who have difficulty paying their electricity bills.

“We understand that situations or emergencies can arise that make it hard for some customers to pay their bills,” said company spokesman Kurt Brautigam. “Project Share provides a means for helping those truly in need.”

Currently, nearly 3,000 customers are enrolled in Project Share, pledging a total of approximately $5,700 per month. Since the program began in April 2002, customers have contributed more than $75,000.

The Red Cross of Mississippi administers Project Share and oversees distribution of the money collected. “Red Cross reaches each of the communities we serve and has been a partner with us for nineteen years,” said Brautigam. “They know the needs in the community and are experienced in providing similar assistance programs. Since 1984, they have administered an annual contribution from Mississippi Power to help with the same kinds of needs.”

Customers who wish to participate in Project Share may check an amount of $1, $2 or $5 per month in the upper right hand corner of their bills. Those who pay their bills automatically by bank transfer may participate by calling Mississippi Power’s customer service center at 1-800-532-1502.

Once a customer begins giving to Project Share, their designated amount will be noted separately on their Mississippi Power bill every month. The contribution may be tax deductible depending on an individual’s tax situation. Customers may change or cancel their contributions at any time by contacting the company.

“The response to Project Share so far has exceeded all of our expectations,” said Brautigam. “The program has helped many families by providing much needed assistance, and as we again enter the season for colder weather, we wanted to give customers another chance to participate. When many give a little, it can make a big difference.”

Plant Watson Conducts Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day

Mississippi Power’s Plant Watson again teamed with the Harrison County Board of Supervisors, the Harrison County Solid Waste Division and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources to hold its ninth annual household hazardous waste collection day.

This year, more than 650 vehicles turned out to drop off paint, chemicals, pesticides, poison, oil and other hazardous products for safe disposal. The collection results included 2,379 gallons of motor oil, 413 car batteries, 25,000 pounds of paint, 11,000 pounds of other hazardous materials, 101 refrigerators and approximately 1,000 tires.

“The main purpose of this event is to enhance the quality of the environment, which helps protect the health and safety of the public,” said company spokesman Kurt Brautigam. “It also allows Mississippi Power employees to demonstrate their environmental commitment while helping educate the public on proper waste disposal. We try to make it an easy way for people to help protect our environment.

“Over the years, thousands of people have participated and more than 120 tons of hazardous materials have been collected, which obviously makes a significant difference in our quality of life in Harrison County.”

The event, which has earned several Keep Mississippi Beautiful Awards from the State of Mississippi, recently received a first place Gulf Guardian Award for its efforts. The Gulf Guardian Awards were created in 2000 by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gulf of Mexico Program to recognize environmental excellence in the Gulf Coast states. The award was presented in October at the Southern States Environmental Conference in Biloxi.

“It takes a big team effort to conduct the event each year, and we appreciate everyone who helps,” said Brautigam. “In addition to the volunteers and vendors who help ensure proper disposal of all the materials dropped off each year, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the Gulfport Fire and Police departments provide their support and services.”