June 27, 2008

Maryland Faces Power Crisis, Former PSC Chairman Says

By Ed Waters Jr., The Frederick News-Post, Md.

Jun. 26--Turning on a light or the air conditioner. Cooking dinner or recharging a cell phone battery.

Simple, everyday occurrences. But they could be a problem if there are electrical brownouts or blackouts -- and those blackouts are a real possibility according to Marylanders for Reliable Power.

"It's not a doomsday scenario," said H. Russell Frisby Jr., a founder of the organization is former chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission. "But we don't want the electric grid at full capacity. Look at BRAC. There won't be enough electricity." Frisby works at a law firm in Washington, specializing in public utility law.

MRP is made up of utility companies, businesses, business associations and unions.

"We've reached a crisis point in Maryland," Frisby said on Wednesday during a visit to Frederick. "The state is importing 30 percent of its electricity and there is not enough capacity to import more."

Businesses believe the crisis will affect economic development; unions are looking at the affect on jobs. State officials are concerned about public safety.

According to research Frisby cited, demand by 2012 will overwhelm the existing network, creating brownouts and blackouts.

"The problem is exacerbated in Maryland because we are in a congested zone," Frisby said. "Without doing something now, it will only get worse." Increasing capacity could save the state $500 million a year in the cost of importing power. The cost of new lines, such as the proposed PATH system by Allegheny Power, would be spread out over a large network, while Maryland, Virginia and Washington would benefit, Frisby said.

"I look at Maryland like a desert. You can dig, you can conserve, but you still won't have enough water. It's like that with power," he said. Transmission of power is most cost-effective, compared to building new generating plants, he said. "But you have the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) effect. We are trying to raise public awareness that we need more transmission lines," Frisby said.

Those lines can be built in a way that is "environmentally successful," he said. "We have to be creative. People argue that lines are environmentally unfriendly, but just as we can make 'green' building, we can do this environmentally."

A lot of renewable energy is becoming available in the Midwest, Frisby said, but it has to be sent via transmission lines to this area. "We are part of the world's largest electric grid, from New York to Virginia and west to Ohio," Frisby said.

Transmitting power is, however, a "short-term solution," Frisby said.

"We need more generation and it takes five years or more to build a plant. We are now relying on older, less-efficient generating plants."

Frisby said the problem is not one that surfaced overnight, but something that has been going on for years. "We have to act now," he said.

Louise Hayman, a communications consultant who is helping Frisby get the word out to the public, said the group will form a steering committee at the end of the summer.

"We want to make sure we are getting all of those interested on board," she said.

She cited comments from Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, the Department of Defense, Department of Energy and others who have stated the problem is critical and steps need to be taken to prepare for the increased electric demand.


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