Mysterious NEPOOL; memories of the great blackout


From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in

Rhode Island, reports GoLocalProv, has the third-highest overall utility costs in America. That’s not very surprising since it still depends on expensive, end-of-the-pipeline natural gas to generate much of its electricity and provide fuel for heat and cooking in many buildings. It also has very expensive, if fast and generally reliable, Internet service.

But there’s hope: Technology is gradually bringing down the cost of locally produced energy such as solar and wind, and there will probably be more competition entering the Internet sector because of technological advances and corporate shuffles.

To read the GoLocal piece, please hit this link.

One reason that electricity prices are so high in New England may be the New England Power Pool (“NEPOOL”). This trade group is dominated by big utilities and power-plant owners, reports New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR), and its meetings aren’t open to the public.

Independent Service Operator of New England (ISO), created by the Feds to keep the region’s power on, is charged with overseeing the region’s grid. NEPOOL makes recommendations to ISO on rates and on whether and where new transmission lines should be strung, NHNPR reports. But NEPOOL can submit its own regulatory ideas to the government, which may contradict those of ISO.

Don Reis, New Hampshire’s utility ratepayer advocate, told NHPR: NEPOOL is “more powerful than the other stakeholder advisory boards at other regional transmission organizations around the country.’’

Red marks the area hit by the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965.

Red marks the area hit by the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965.

We need to know how much of New England’s high electric rates can be explained by the structure and power of NEPOOL.

To read the NHPR story, please hit this link.

The creation of ISO and NEPOOL can be traced back to federal regulators’ efforts to prevent a repeat of the huge blackout that darkened most of the Northeast on Nov. 9 and 10, 1965.

I remember it fondly, but then I wasn’t stuck in an elevator. I was in a classroom in a girls’ school in Waterbury, Conn., for a rather vague course called “Philosophy of Religion.’’ The class was one of the very few co-ed classes open for students at my boys boarding school, which was in another town about eight miles away.

At about 5:20 that dark day, the room went pitch dark and someone muttered: “The wrath of God!’’ Weirdly, a now-long-dead classmate (and terrific musician) called Al d’Ossche, from New Orleans, found a candle in the room and lit it using a cigarette lighter.

Chuckling nervously, the spinsterish teacher soon dismissed us, and we headed out the door to find the grumpy driver and his van that would take us back to our school. With most everything dark except for car headlights, we had an eerie, exciting trip up and down the hills. When we got to the school we carefully walked up to second-floor apartment of Mr. Dunlop (an English teacher) and his eventual ex-wife, off the dorm corridor where most of the seniors lived. Thank God there were no electric door locks at the school then.

There were a couple of flashlights and hurricane lamps lit, along with the glow of cigarettes; seniors were allowed to smoke in teachers’ apartments if the teachers (aka “masters’’ – sounds a little S&M) permitted. And in the background you’d hear on a transistor radio: “77 WABC – home of the All Americans!’’ from New York. The WABC DJs and news folks reveled in describing the drama of Manhattan gone dark.

It was a delightful evening, in part because it was impossible to do any “homework.’’ It was one of those gleeful, lovely inconveniences, like, for some, southern New England’s Great Blizzard of ’78 – that is gleeful, for a day or two….