First-Hand:Interconnected Power Systems, Regional Integration and the EPA

Submitted by Theodore Schroeder

Various influences during my youth resulted in various ideas as to "what I was going to be" but they always involved some form of engineering. Architecture was it at one point because of a fascination with building construction and architectural drafting; then mechanical engineering because of mechanical drafting (in high school); finally I decided electrical engineering because of the idealistic thought that supplying electricity to the public must be the greatest contribution to society.

In my senior year, I could opt for either an electrical engineering or a civil engineering degree. After much weighing of the pro's and con's electrical engineering won out.

The wisdom of this decision was highlighted in my mind when—on February 19, 1936—one of the foremost life's occurrences took place: I was recruited and hired by the General Electric Company to come to Schenectady, New York, and join the student engineering training program, commonly known as the "Test Course." The remainder of my senior year, in that post-depression but still job-scarce era, was one of high elation.

My first assignment was in testing thyratron control drives for gun directors for U.S. Navy battleships. This struck me as odd for someone interested in power utilities, but it turned out to have an advantage: I learned more about electronics than I did when in school.

The interconnection of power systems, already accomplished somewhat in the eastern part of the country, was now being studied more extensively on the west coast, and in the northwest, the midwest, and the south. Many things were learned by those of us, who knew all about them, when checking them out on the network analyzer.

One memorable instance occurred when we “tied together” four groups of systems (the south central, the south, the TVA system and some of the northeast). We set scheduled interchanges of power for each of the four main tie lines but to our surprise at least one of the lines would not carry the load per schedule if the other three did. After thinking for a while there was something wrong with the analyzer, we realized that we were trying to violate a version of Ohm's law—the impedances in the particular network set-up had governed the loading of that tie-line not our schedule.

The infamous “Northeast Blackout” of November 19, 1965, did not reach the Midwest, but it banished some complacency on the part of utility operating groups generally. I recall speculating with Charles Concordia, power system expert of General Electric, at the 1963 summer meeting of the AlEE that we could someday have a major collapse of the interconnected system. The actual event led to the installation of "black start" generation, the addition of under-frequency load shedding relays and the establishment of regional coordination among groups of utilities [IP is in "MAIN" (Midwest Area Interconnected Network)].

In the late 1960s, nationwide concern about our polluting the environment became so strong that various state "pollution control boards" were required to adopt more stringent regulations governing water and air pollution. They were soon reporting to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the federal organization set up by Congress.

Numerous proposals came forward from new and also established consulting groups and manufacturers for controlling S02 (sulfur dioxide) and N02 (nitrogen dioxide) emissions. We carefully reviewed these and found most of them impractical and all of them very costly.

In one case, the company entered a joint venture with the EPA and a chemical company. Under the guidance of the latter, we were to insert a complete sulfuric acid making plant in the stack gas passage of one unit in the plant located in a "major metropolitan area" (having the lowest permissible levels of S02 emissions). A special catalyst was used to facilitate the formation of sulfuric acid from the S02 in the stack gas.

Each party in this effort shared an eight million dollar expenditure for the equipment and its installation, plus an extensive monitoring program by an expert consulting firm. This facility was unsuccessful because, after considerable operation of the generating unit under normal load levels, the acid produced at the lower loads was quite dilute and, therefore, extremely corrosive. The equipment corroded so extensively and rapidly that the facility was judged impractical.

I served on the AlEE System Engineering Committee, 1953-58. I was elected to the grade of Fellow for "contributions to planning and design of power systems." I coordinated the campaign within the Central Illinois Section membership to financially support the construction of the new headquarters building at 345 East 47th St., New York City.