Critics of the proposed new intertie were quick to pounce on a local utility official's assertion that Monday's outage wouldn't have happened if the power line project was finished.
What conceivable value, naysayers asked, does construction of a new intertie line north of Healy offer against line interruptions further south?
It's a good question.
In addition to boosting the transmission capacity of the Healy-to-Fairbanks power connection from 100- to 140 megawatts, the intertie project, as envisioned, features the installation of a giant battery. In the case of a sudden loss of power flowing north, such as we experienced this week, juice from the new battery would be tapped to keep area homes and businesses temporarily lit, like a back-up power supply protects a computer user.
The emergency buffer provided by the intertie project's 40Mw Battery Energy Storage System is expected to last about 20 minutes. While that might not seem like much, it's intended to give utility managers the precious minutes needed to fire up more costly local generators, and redistribute power loads throughout the region.
Some utilities keep secondary generator's spinning for similar emergency back-up service. Fairbanks new battery is a cheaper alternative, according to the Intertie project environmental impact study.
That makes sense to us. The approach is in keeping with the whole thrust of the Railbelt intertie system -- enabling utilities to purchase and distribute power from the most economical sources available. We hope to see the new Fairbanks battery in place as soon as possible. However, engineers at Golden Valley Electric Association, the Interior's member-owned nonprofit electric utility, tell us the battery is designed for installation along with the proposed intertie itself.
All of which serves to explain why a utility official isn't blowing smoke to suggest the Northern Intertie project, when completed, could prevent an outage caused by a blown circuit breaker located further south.
The connection is easy to scoff at -- until one considers how and why the Interior plugs into the Railbelt power grid.
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