By now you surely know there’s a big power outage back east. In fact, it’s the biggest power outage ever, effecting 2 countries, half a dozen states, a bunch of big cities, and millions of people. New York’s airports still appear to be closed at this writing, which will cause travel logistics problems through the weekend and according to one analyst cost each airline $10-15 million. Despite the fact that the lion’s share of the financial markets are located in New York City, most opened for business today, some on generator power. Detroit is expected to be without power through the weekend, a fact which surprises no-one familiar with the their local infrastructure.
In the late afternoon and evening hours as the situation unfolded and people tried desperately to get from their dark offices to their dark homes, many theories developed about the cause of the massive outage: it was a fire in a Manhattan substation (which turned out to be steam and smoke from the rapid shut-down process); it was a problem at Niagra-Mohawk (they denied it); it was a lightning strike according to the Canadian Prime Minister; one commentator joked it could be UFOs; the latest theory is a problem in Ohio. Nobody knows for certain what happened, but the People In Charge assure us it is not terrorism. How can they claim that without knowing the cause? No crank calls from Osama Bin Laden?
President Bush, despite not bothering to make a public statement until 4 hours after the crisis began, is using this opportunity to call for an energy bill. Do not be shocked if it involves oil drilling in the ANWR. Don’t say nobody warned you that such a bill would make it much easier to ram through eminent domain and the construction of power plants despite the fact that all the experts said last night capacity was not the problem. Do not be surprised if it involves tax breaks for big oil services companies like Halliburton and big energy trading companies like Dynegy.
Oh right, the energy traders. The people who single handedly brought you the California Energy Crisis. In an echo of Enron I point out this paragraph, emphasis mine:
“The early confusion about the cause of the grid collapse reflects the bedeviling complexity woven into the North American electricity network. Strain on the system has increased with the boom in cross-border power energy trading, and the emergence of competitive energy markets where power is being traded across long distances.”
Yes, that’s right.This whole thing may be caused by our old friends, the energy traders. Energy trading is bad, alright? It drives costs up, it drives reliability down. The only thing that can be said in its favor is that it means people can afford to have a “Not In My Back Yard” attitude towards power generation.
If we really want to prevent this from happening in the future, we must make sure the grid has redundant, reliable, and modernized systems in place, just like when you played Sim City back in the day. We must encourage solar and wind energy, since these systems can be used in town without disturbing (or polluting) the neighbors. We must furthermore encourage the use of low power devices, such as compact fluorescent lights, LCD computer monitors and televisions, low power computer processors, and other energy efficient devices.
Drilling oil wells in the Arctic and subsidizing Dick Cheney’s cronies is not going to solve this problem.