Energy Blotter

Someone tried to set off a bomb at a substation near Nogales, Arizona. While 30,000 people could have potentially lost power, the bomb was very crude and poorly placed. It caused little damage.

Police in Israel arrested a man for running a fake electric utility website and collecting credit card numbers for bill payments. Customers were directed to the site with text messages.

ISIS, a militant rebel group in Iraq and Syria, helps fund its operations by selling back to the Syrian government electricity that it generates at captured power plants.

In Jajpur, India, an ingot-casting plant operating blast furnaces was found to have illegally tapped in to the lines of the North Electricity Supply Company of Odisha. The taps were hidden underground and alongside legal cables. The owner of the casting plant was assessed a penalty of 11.32 crore rupees ($1.9 million).

Thieves stole 8 miles of copper wire from Lamar Electric Cooperative during June. Some of it was taken from storage units and vehicles but some was clipped from live lines using tree-trimming tools.

A jury in Philadelphia found two ex-police officers guilty of theft of services, conspiracy, and risking a catastrophe for bypassing gas and electric meters at three properties they own. Though the judge in the case originally suggested that jail time was not an appropriate punishment, after one of the criminals railed in court at the prosecutor for being jealous of her jewelry, car, and general lifestyle, the judge changed his mind and sentenced her to 6-23 months in prison, 5 years probation, and a $5,000 fine. The other person convicted apologized and received 6-12 months of house arrest and a $1,000 fine.

An anti-theft drive by Jamaica Public Service resulted in the arrest of 36 people. One was fined $100,000 (or 6 months in prison), another $25,000 (or also 6 months in prison).

A woman in Belize City convicted of stealing electricity was fined $500 and ordered to pay up by August 31st or face 5 years in jail.

Two PPL customers are facing theft charges for rigging their meters. The utility was led to the tampered meters by an audit of bills, which showed that the two suspiciously had consumed zero electricity on certain days.

In Summerton, South Carolina, a man reported his neighbor to police for plugging in an extension cord each night to an outlet on the man’s back porch. According to a local news outlet, “Deputies reported observing an extension cord running from an outlet on the victim’s back porch as described.” It does not say whether the police did anything more than observe.

The Power Log

Line work is dangerous! Lineman Chris Williamson suffered a fatal electrocution while attempting to restore power after a storm in Florence, Alabama.

In Benton Township, Michigan, a truck razed a utility pole, interrupting electric supply to 1,800 customers of Indiana Michigan Power for 3 hours. The next day in nearby Coloma, a squirrel attempted to demonstrate that it was just as capable. It invaded a substation and managed to interrupt 600.

A squirrel in Bend, Oregon did even better, zapping 5,100 customers of Pacific Power.

In Sallisaw, Oklahoma, a snake managed to invade a control panel inside a substation building. Local residents only lost power for about 15-20, though, as crews were able to switch circuits to supply from another substation.

A blackout in Maryland worked out for one woman. She got bored at home, went out to buy a lottery ticket, and won $50,000.

The Power Log

Twice in 4 days automobiles crashed in to utility poles in Ottawa County, Michigan, interrupting power to local residents. Actually, this is a pretty common cause of interruptions everywhere.

Power outages plagued much of India, including the capital, Delhi, for several days after a large storm downed important transmission lines and high temperatures sent demand soaring.

Country-wide blackouts hit Zimbabwe (which the local utility claims was caused by a fault outside of Zimbabwe’s borders) and Yemen (where the cause was gunmen attacking transmission lines and then the repair crews that came to fix them).

Apparently, possums felt left out after the extensive list of animal incursions in my last Power Log. They seem to know what they’re doing, too. One hit a power line in Port Melbourne, Australia, exactly where it was able to take out multiple distribution substations.

In Kalispell, Montana, a squirrel hid from a storm in a transformer. It would have been better off in the rain. A police officer investigating the resulting power outage found its charred body.

A bird in Salina, Kansas knocked out power to 2,800 Westar customers.

A blackout at Mosquito Bay, Puerto Rico is of the biological kind. That is, the bay’s bioluminescent plankton have gone dark. The reason is unknown, as is how long it will last.

Protection system misoperations turned off the lights for 16,000 in Toronto.

Free Procedure Template

Procedure TemplateI’m in a giving mood today, so here for your use is a free procedure template. I’ve used it many times to document compliance with NERC reliability standards. Feel free to use it in your own work, to document internal corporate policies; just don’t put your name on it and sell it as your work.

Procedure Template [MS Word document]

While there is no one true way to format a procedure, the essential elements of a credible document include:

  • Approval information (name and title of the person approving, and the date of approval).
  • Effective date and version number.
  • Procedure title and company name.
  • Applicability (list of the positions, departments, and internal functions to which the procedure applies).
  • Procedures (the step-by-step detailed instructions).

Other beneficial procedure document sections include:

  • Purpose—a description of the goal, approach, and general scope of the problem being addressed.
  • References—other material that implementing personnel will require in order to complete the procedure, as well as materials that generally provide context or guidance (such as relevant regulations).
  • Definitions—terms with special meaning.
  • Data retention—guidelines regarding the preservation of data and documentation.
  • Version history—helpful information on how the procedure for a certain subject has changed over time.

One more recommendation… Write instructions using active voice and second-person perspective. When written in passive voice, procedures that are meant to read like instructions often read like descriptions of usual activity, and thus end up sounding like suggestions. Even if your staff understand that the procedures are mandatory, auditors may not take them that way. Of course, pay special attention to the use of words such as “may” and “should”. Instead use “must” and “shall”.

The Power Log

After 120,000 lost power in Toronto, officials determined that the cause was Toronto Hydro erecting a pole too close to the high-voltage lines of Hydro One, thus resulting in a short-circuit.

I don’t know what officials are saying in Venezuela but according to UFO Digest, witnesses in several places around the country claim to have seen blackouts following the movement of multicolored lights in the sky.

More than 150,000 were without power in Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula after the failure of a gas supply line at a regional power plant.

Fire in a substation zapped about 20,000 customers of National Grid in Northern Berkshire, New York.

The entire island of Kauai, Hawaii lost power when the failure of a fuel valve tripped the Port Allen generator (Kauai’s second largest).

A single fault of unknown origin triggered a country-wide blackout in Panama.

Power outages also affect other infrastructure! A pipeline that carries nearly 800,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Edmonton, Alberta to Clearbrook, Minnesota shut down after the failure of a SaskPower transmission line supplying two pumping stations.

A blackout affecting most of Kenya was the result of a “generation system breakdown“.

Equipment problems in an underground vault led to service interruptions in downtown Santa Barbara. A similar problem hit Napa, California.

An underground electrical fire hit South Bend, Indiana, knocking out power to 800 customers, just as the city was welcoming visitors for the commencement program of the University of Notre Dame.

Animal incursions leading to power outages:

The Power Log

A short note on why I post these blackout summaries… Sure, there are some technical lessons. But more than that, I think it’s important for us in the business of providing power to understand the bigger picture—that is, the cultural expectations of electric power and the societal impacts of blackouts. While sometimes I think that we in the United States expect too much reliability, there are also many good reminders in these reports that electricity isn’t just a matter of convenience.

Brazil was hit by a blackout affecting 6 million people across 11 states. Despite record high temperatures and reduced output from hydroelectric plants, the government insists that the blackout was not the result of a capacity shortage, rather a transmission line short-circuit—as if that was better.

Winter ice in Maryland and Deleware knocked out power for 158,000 customers.

A localized blackout affected only the hospital in Moreno Valley, California. It was expected to take 23 hours to repair.

In Guinea, people are rioting in protest over the lack of electricity. The problem has been going on for 2 months, since a problem occurred at one substation. A regional governor promised local protestors that power would be restored next week.

Ongoing nightly blackouts in Warri, Nigeria—blamed on road construction—has residents fearful of a criminals.

Unspecified equipment failure knocked out power to 5,400 in Lexington, Kentucky. Service was restored to all but five within 9 hours.

Backup generators failed to operate during recent power interruptions at the Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa. Two employees have received written reprimands for not performing necessary tests and not ensuring that the generators were fueled.

The Power Log

While the Syracuse, New York residents I know are proud of the region’s snowy climate, I expect they weren’t thinking such positive thoughts Thursday night, when about 7,000 customers in Syracuse, Dewitt, and Onondaga were without power for around 4 hours. The cause of the outage turned out to be downed tree limbs and a resulting phase-to-phase fault.

Still, Syracusans were better off than the residents of Burgeo, who lost power for 9 hours while wind, rain, and snow battered the coastal town in Newfoundland.

While crews were working to restore electric service for 11,000 area customers, two engineers responded to a call from UK Prime Minister, David Cameron. As it turns out, the Prime Minister’s loss of power was simply the result of water getting in to the fuse-box. A spokesman for Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution said that Cameron did not receive preferential treatment. Y’know, on the one hand, I doubt that. But on the other hand, I don’t see why he shouldn’t.

An article on this Australian news site suggests that SP AsusNet should reschedule planned transmission line maintenance because children will be forced to attend school without lights, computers, food service, alarms, or air conditioning (temperatures are currently 35°C/95°F). I wonder why the administrators don’t just cancel school for the day.