Saw a great show about the U.S. power grid on the Smithsonian Channel tonight.
It's call System Crash and describes in detail how the 2003 blackout happened.
The overall problem is that the energy companies were *deregulated*, like the financial industries. The government used to oversee all the power companies and insure that they all held up to standards. Now they are independently managed and are cutting corners to increase profits. Since the grid ties everyone together, one small link going out can bring down the whole system.
Seems like deregulation is a much bigger threat to our security than the threat from foreign powers. The defense budget should go to replacing our infrastructure and regulating essential industries. That would be true defense.
I used to work indirectly for the natural gas industry, writing marketing case studies on gas-powered technologies, so I've seen a bit of what's happened to utility companies.
Deregulation has been a nightmare for consumers, but unfortunately too many people don't realize how much trouble it has caused. Just a few weeks ago there was an article saying Texas electric customers have paid something like $11 billion more with deregulation, than they would have paid if utilities had remained regulated. Deregulation has not created competition and lower rates; it has created all-powerful monopolies.
Deregulation means that utilities sold off their generating facilities, laid off large numbers of repair and maintenance workers, and got rid of most of their customer service people and marketing staff, among other things. The utilities now exist solely to maximize profit for the company officials and the stockholders, while shrugging off any obligation to be responsible to consumers. Meanwhile the distribution infrastructure is slowly falling apart from inadequate maintenance.
Instead of maintaining enough repair workers to handle major power outages and other emergencies, the utilities set up reciprocal agreements with utilities in other states to send repair crews where they are needed. Here in Maryland, this means that we can have a widespread power outage affecting hundreds of thousands, but we may need to wait 10 to 15 hours just for repair crews from other states to drive here, rest, and start working. I'm sure similar situations exist all around the country.
2. I remember hearing a similar description on local public radio
not long after Hurricane Ike hit us in 2008. Deregulation was the reason why power remained out for more than three weeks for most customers here. You saw plenty of out of state repair trucks for weeks when it shouldn't have taken more than a week (or two at most) to fix everything. That is, there was a comparable storm to hit this area in 1983: Hurricane Alicia.
It was a slightly stronger storm, Cat.3, and yet, for most customers power was only out for a week at most. As the radio host explained it, back then we had a "gold-plated" grid, regularly maintained and upgraded. So, when disaster struck (and is a given when living on the lower East and Third Coasts) getting their crews out to repair the damages wasn't this huge undertaking requiring the need for calling in contractors from out of state.
But, in the world of the conservative, corporate profit is more important than customer satisfaction any day
3. Plus, since it's so costly to call crews from out of state...
During the last storm, Pepco waited until after the storm had already struck before calling in out-of-state crews, on the off-chance that they wouldn't be needed.
So the crews had to try and get here via roads that hadn't been cleared yet.
There is no such thing as "deregulation". There is ALWAYS regulation - it just depends on who the regulation favors. Typically, "deregulation" means regulation in favor of corporate people instead of bodied people.
Pepco trailed other utilities, didn't call for help until well into snowstorm By Mary Pat Flaherty Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, January 28, 2011; 12:33 AM
Pepco did not call for major reinforcements to help restore power to its customers until late Wednesday night, well into the storm and several hours after Baltimore Gas and Electric had begun assembling outside contractors for help.
There's a new WP article (fresh from today) heaping more criticism on Pepco
Pepco reliability plan 'cobbled together' without detailed study, report finds By Joe Stephens and Mary Pat Flaherty Washington Post Staff Writers Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 12:14 AM
Pepco's multimillion-dollar plan to reduce power outages and improve reliability was "cobbled together" without detailed study and could fail to achieve its goals, a team of independent consultants has found.
During field inspections, the consultants said, they found a number of problems that should have been identified during Pepco's routine examinations, including deteriorating power poles, broken guy wires and loose insulators. Some of the damage appeared to be storm-related.
"This is not surprising, as Pepco does not perform after-storm inspections or patrols to look for, for example, broken branches in overhanging trees that can easily come down in the next storm - faults waiting to happen," the report said.
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