Automated System Oversees Power Delivery

Most of us don't give much thought to electricity. That is, until the power goes out.

In the Northeast, it took just nine seconds for the great blackout to cover the region.

Mississippi Power is responsible for providing power to nearly 200 thousand people in South Mississippi.

The Plant Watson electric generating plant is among the most visible Mississippi Power facilities. But the real heartbeat of the company lies in a small room filled with graphs and computer monitors.

"This is our transmission control center. This is really the nerve center for moving the power," said company spokesman, Kurt Brautigam.

It's a place where operators track things like "daily load trends" and "generating capabilities". When electricity leaves the generating plant in power lines, a complex network of automation and technology directs the power to where it's needed.

"One aspect of electricity that most folks don't think about is you cannot store it. It is generated immediately whenever the need is there. So when somebody flicks a switch on at their house, it actually affects the generation patterns of a power plant somewhere," Brautigam explained.

A giant graph on the wall pinpoints the location of each Mississippi Power Company generating plant and substation, from Meridian to the coast.

"We've got four generating plants. We've got over two thousand miles of transmission lines. And we've got a responsibility to meet the instantaneous demands of our customers at any given time," said the company spokesman.

When the automated equipment and operators are doing their jobs, few people take notice. We've all come to expect reliable delivery of electric power.

"The only time that people really think about their electric service and electric supply is when it's not there," said Brautigam.

The power company's challenge is making certain customers have nothing to talk about.

A network of "power grids" connects electric systems around the country. President Bush says the grid system needs to be updated and improved. Mississippi Power's Kurt Brautigam says the power grid in the Southeast is among the most reliable and efficient in the country.