FRANKFORT, Ky. (FOX 56) – Kentucky lawmakers called a special hearing Thursday to discuss the December blackouts and how to improve the state’s energy infrastructure.
While Winter Storm Elliott, which came the week of Christmas, has passed on, the conversations around it have not.
Boardwalk Pipelines, Tennessee Valley Authority, and LG&E and KU, all explained why their systems failed and caused thousands of Kentuckians to face fatal situations from losing power and paying for skyrocketing energy bills.
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Jeff Sanderson, senior vice president of operations at boardwalk pipelines said, “We ran into icing situations. There was one control valve, and an 8-inch control valve, that has to get a permissive start to be able to start this unit, and there was ice in the tubing lines, and it was also our controller that operated the valve.”
All three utility companies said they were prepared for the arctic blast, but they were not prepared for the sudden drop into freezing temperatures, and that was what revealed the weaknesses in their systems.
Aaron Melda, senior vice president of Tennessee Valley Authority, said the company’s heat pumps did not respond well to the short time frame of temperature change.
“A heat pump’s logic says if I see a four-degree difference between set point and what I’m driving to, it automatically kicks on auxiliary, and so what happened, at this period of time, was millions of heat pumps across the system kicked on auxiliary heat at the same time and drove the load much higher than we expected.”
Lonnie Bellar, chief operating officer at LG&E and KU said they experienced failures with gas pressures.
“We lost 900 megawatts of generation,” Bellar said. “The whole event from the start to the very single last customer lasted four hours and 13 minutes, but the bulk of the interruptions were in the first hour and a half.”
The majority of Kentucky’s Natural Resources and Energy committee responded to the companies’ analysis with one question, why were there supplies getting away from coal?
Kentucky lawmakers argued that coal is more cost-efficient and more reliable, yet the utility companies were shutting down more coal plants which could have prevented the blackouts.
Republican Senator Whitney Westerfield asked what will the future of Kentucky look like if and when another arctic blast comes.
“You’ve heard from a panel that supports coal and represents constituents who support coal, and it makes our power among the cheapest in the country. Why do we keep shutting down coal?” Westerfield said.
Kentucky house representative Jim Gooch sympathized with the utility companies dealing with federal regulations to shut down coal plants and open renewable ones, for generous incentives.
Gooch, along with many others on the committee, urged the utility companies to reconsider those federal offers and do what is in the best interest of Kentuckians.