(Washington, D.C.) – At the first of several public meetings hosted by Department of Energy for the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), Duane Highley, CEO of the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. (AECC) and Vice-Chairman of the Electric Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC), offered a frank assessment of risks facing the nation’s electric system, while challenging the notion that the U.S. grid has become antiquated. The following is an excerpt from Highley’s remarks:
Redundancy is our first line of defense against all threats, natural or intentional. Our industry has direct experience with physical threats, as demonstrated last year in California at the Metcalf substation and in three incidents in Arkansas near Little Rock. Initially we did not know the source of sabotage in Arkansas. A transmission tower was pulled down, a substation control building was burned, and transmission lines were cut. Utilities worked directly with the FBI and other government agencies as the events developed. In the end, an arrest was made and terrorist activity was ruled out, but until we knew the source, utilities across the nation were on alert. Information about the incidents was shared in real-time using the methods initiated by the ESCC.
These deliberate acts of sabotage failed to cause the desired interruption of service to customers, primarily because of the redundancy that has been designed into the electric system to provide reliability through natural disasters and routine equipment failure. This redundancy is a critical aspect of grid resiliency.
When it comes to future electric sector reliability, my primary concern, as someone responsible for delivering reliable, secure and affordable energy to my member-owners, is the impact that will come from proposed carbon dioxide emission regulations. Because of existing regulations, we can no longer affordably build new coal-based plants. We continue to rely on older, less efficient coal plants to provide our most affordable energy.
Highley also reflected on his experience bringing electricity to villages in Guatemala:
I just returned yesterday from Cuilco, Huehuetanango, Guatemala, where linemen from Arkansas cooperatives have been working for the past two weeks to put up poles and string lines to bring electricity to remote villages that never had it before…. It was an incredible experience for all of us, and it gives me a particular appreciation for the high quality and reliable electric service we often take for granted. It seems to be in vogue these days to refer to the U.S. electric grid as outdated, antiquated, obsolete, or even “third world.” Well, I’ve been to that third world and I can tell you that there is nothing third world or antiquated about the grid we enjoy here in the U.S. We deploy the very latest technology, and continually update our facilities to insure that our members have reliable service.
About AECC: The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas comprise 17 electric distribution cooperatives; Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc. (AECI), a Little Rock-based cooperative that provides services to distribution cooperatives; and Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. (AECC), a generation and transmission cooperative. The distribution cooperatives provide electricity to more than 490,000 members, or customers, in Arkansas and surrounding states.
About NRECA: The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.