Tuesday, August 4, 2015

How you live -- electricity

Today's bioregional quiz question presents, in a strange way, a challenge similar to trying to summarize our governor's environmental policy. Numerous factoids are available but don't seem to lend themselves to the generation of a coherent answer. Here's the "question:"

Trace the electrical energy in your home from source to outlet.

I really, really wish I could reply that we are "off the grid" with our own photovoltaic cells and some sort of electrical energy storage system. Unfortunately, that's not (yet) the case, so we need to look at "the grid," so to speak. Whenever I think of Minnesota's electric utilities the word balkanization leaps to mind. This map of service areas should give you a pretty good idea of why.

Minnesota's electric utility service areas
Minnesota's electric utility service areas

We're located in the pale blue area on the right side about 3/8" above and to the left of the word "Paul." The closeup below shows the local "turfs" involved in our immediate area. I assume, but can't document, that there are interconnections somewhere in these systems but maybe not. Our electric provider is Xcel energy (pale blue). By my count, there are also three other separate electric utilities serving the southern half of Chisago County.

Southern Chisago County electric utility service areas
Southern Chisago County electric utility service areas

I can trace our home's electrical energy from an outlet in the wall to the main electric panel in the house and from there underground to a connection to Xcel's overhead (distribution?) lines hung from "telephone" poles along our township road. That's where I lose any direct linkage to the source. Substations and transmission lines in our area are shown below.

Electric transmission lines and substations in Chisago County
Electric transmission lines and substations in Chisago County

The following extract from Wikipedia's page on Xcel Energy describes Xcel's generation facilities. Some are in Minnesota.
"Xcel Energy currently has 13 coal plants with a capacity of 7,697 MW. Seven of those plants are operated in Colorado.[12] Xcel is the largest producer of wind power in the US according to the American Wind Energy Association. Xcel Energy owns and operates three wind farms. In October 2011, Xcel Energy set a world record for electricity from wind power.[13]

"Xcel Energy generates over 500 megawatts of hydroelectric power from 27 plants in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Colorado. This accounts for more than four percent of their electricity generation. They also purchase large amounts of hydro-generated electricity from Manitoba Hydro.

"Biomass electricity comes from organic fuel sources. Xcel Energy has contracts for about 110 megawatts of electricity from biomass generators. Two in northern Minnesota are fueled by forest harvest residue, such as treetops and limbs. A third facility, brought on line in 2007 in western Minnesota, generates power using turkey litter.[14] ...

"...Xcel Energy owns and operates two nuclear power plants, Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant near Monticello, Minnesota, and Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant near Red Wing, Minnesota and stores the spent fuel from these nuclear plants on site in independent spent fuel storage installations. (ISFSIs)."

When (not if) we get to an electrical system that generates electricity in a much more decentralized pattern than we have now, something more like the Internet, electric networks and interconnections may have greater relevance to determining local bioregions. It's utility (intentional pun) as of today seems limited. That perspective is, of course, subject to change. I'm still working on developing a mental model of bioregions as nested places and areas and regions. I can't readily fit the existing fragmented and fractured service areas and interconnected grid into that model.

[UPDATE: My Better Half recently sent a link to the Washington Post's interesting infographics on electricity generation at US power plants. Late yesterday the Obama Administration released their Clean Power Plan with  fact sheets for states. This link's to Minnesota's.

You've Got to Start Somewhere

By Deborah Landau 
I had the idea of sitting still
while others rushed by.
I had the thought of a shop
that still sells records.
A letter in the mailbox.
The way that book felt in my hands.
I was always elsewhere.
How is it to have a body today,
to walk in this city, to run?
I wanted to eat an apple so precisely
the tree would make another
exactly like it, then lie
down uninterrupted
in the gadgetless grass.
I kept texting the precipice,
which kept not answering,
my phone auto-making
everything incorrect.
I had the idea. Put down the phone.
Earth, leaves, storm, water, vine.
The gorgeous art of breathing.
I had the idea — the hope
of friending you without electricity.
Of what could be made among the lampposts
with only our voices and hands.


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