News digest

Argentina: Argentina’s government has scheduled formal meetings with foreign utility companies to discuss a long-awaited increase in service rates. The meetings with gas and electricity companies are the first formal talks in months on one of the country’s stormiest political issues.

Brazil: Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has launched a major project to bring electricity to 12m rural Brazilians. The $2.4bn ‘Light for All’ project will be financed mostly by the federal government and the rest from state and local governments.

Brazil: Higher power sales, a tariff hike and a stronger Real helped lift Brazil’s largest power distributor out of the red in the third quarter 2003. Eletropaulo Metropolitana reported a net profit of R$6.9m ($2.4m) compared with a loss of R$386.8m for the same period last year.

Brazil: Brazil’s federal power holding Eletrobras announced a joint project to complete a hydroelectric power plant with Electricidade de Portugal and said the partnership may be extended abroad. The stalled project is the Pexie Angical hydroelectric plant on the Tocantins River in northern Brazil.

Chile: A major blackout that left Chile’s economic heartland without power for several hours stemmed from faulty grid operation, government officials said. They denied a lack of investment resulting from low power prices as the cause, which followed similar wide-scale power failures in January 2003 and September 2002.

USA: A DTE Energy Technologies unit has received a $5.4m contract to develop, build, operate and maintain a microgrid at the NextEnergy site in Detroit. The project will use several emerging on-site energy technologies including fuel cells, internal and external combustion engines, mini-turbine technology and photovoltaic cells.

USA: Wisconsin Energy regulators approved a final order for utility Wisconsin energy Corp. to build two coal-fired power plants to serve growing demand for electricity in the state. The Public Service Commission rejected a third power station, based on a new technology, as too expensive.

USA: A CheveronTexaco Corp. subsidiary, Port Pelican, has received approval for a deepwater port license to construct, own and operate an offshore liquefied natural gas receiving and regasification terminal on the Louisiana coastline in the Gulf of Mexico.

USA: Caterpillar and FuelCell Energy Inc. have installed a 250 kW fuel cell-based power plant in Illinois. It will be connected to the local electricity grid and will be used as a demonstration unit.

Competitive rates key to Brazil’s new power model

The aim of Brazil’s new energy model will be the provision of affordable energy for consumers, according to Luiz Pinguelli, president of Eletrobras. Speaking at Power-Gen Latin America in November, he said that the new model would soon be sent to Congress, and that parts of it could be put in to effect immediately.

The provision of affordable electricity will be achieved through a power pool which will combine ‘cheap’ electricity from amortized hydro plants with electricity from new projects. The government remains committed to maintaining favourable conditions for the injection of private capital into the sector, added Pinguelli.

Investors are waiting for the new model to be revealed so they can move forward with plans to build new power plants. Speaking at Power-Gen Latin America, Xisto Viera Filho, El Paso’s VP of regulatory issues, called on the government to ensure that the value of thermal power plants is fully recognised in the new model.

Pinguelli said that “massive” expansion of the thermal power base would be unwise due to the fluctuation of natural gas prices. Optimization of the thermal-hydro mix, where thermal plants are used to supplement cheap hydropower, would be ideal, he said.

Energy bill delayed

Introduction of a US Energy Bill drafted by Republicans and designed to overhaul the country’s energy policy has been delayed after the Senate failed to vote on it in November.

The new legislation provides $23bn in tax breaks, two-thirds of which is for the coal, oil and natural gas industries. It would also encourage new investment in the electricity grid and includes provisions on energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean coal technologies and hydrogen technologies.

Democrats are keen add an amendment that would require large electric utilities to buy increasing amounts of renewable energy, and have also criticised the legislation for weakening air pollution laws.

The transmission and distribution section of the bill attempts to forestall future large-scale blackouts by requiring more high-voltage power lines.

The Bill was passed by the House in November, and its passage will now be delayed until early 2004.

Task force sheds light on US blackout

A US and Canadian Task Force has published a report detailing the causes of the August blackout that lead to millions of people losing electricity supplies throughout an area stretching across the northeastern USA and Canada.

The report states that the blackout could have been prevented, and that certain factors led it to spiral out of control. The problem initiated in Ohio, USA, when three high voltage transmission lines operated by FirstEnergy Corp. short circuited and went out of service when they came into contact with trees that were too close to the lines. Further, FirstEnergy’s control room alarm malfunctioned so that operators were unaware that a problem had occurred. If operators had been informed, the bulk of the problem could have been avoided through load shedding.

The 134-page report observed that at least four standards established by NERC were not observed by FirstEnergy on August 14, and also two by the Midwest Independent System Operator.

Reliability product launched at TVA

American Superconductor has delivered to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) a SuperVAR dynamic synchronous condenser that stabilises grid voltages while maximizing transmission capacity.

The synchronous condenser is installed at a TVA substation serving a steel mill in Tennessee, USA. It serves as a ‘shock absorber’ for the grid, generating or absorbing reactive power depending on the voltage level of the transmission system.

Nexans is to supply high temperature superconductor components for the Department of Energy’s $12m Matrix Fault Current Limiter project.

Rapid City strengthens US transmission grid

ABB has announced that it has successfully commissioned a high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission link which interconnects the eastern and western power grids of the USA. The $50m Rapid City Tie project is expected to boost grid reliability, and was completed in just 19 months – six months faster than the industry standard.

The line passes close to Rapid City, south Dakota, and is capable of transferring 200 MW of power in a controlled manner between the two otherwise independent grids. ABB designed, manufactured and installed the HVDC system as part of the joint project between Basin Electric Power Cooperative of North Dakota, and Black Hills Power of South Dakota.