A 'Third World energy grid' threatens the US

The nation's power infrastructure is an aging, dangerous mess, and conflicting interests remain an obstacle to needed improvements.

By Bruce Kennedy Jul 16, 2013 9:05AM

Power lines (© Digital Vision)Remember what it was like last summer? Record heat and drought, plus flooding and violent storms. All those disasters were capped toward the end of the official Atlantic hurricane season by Superstorm Sandy -- which, along with 117 lives lost and billions of dollars in destruction, knocked out power to 8.1 million people across 17 states.

Well, get ready for more of the same when it comes to your electricity. In a new report, the Department of Energy warns of widespread power outages as a result of extreme weather, creating new stresses on an already stressed, antiquated and vulnerable electric power grid.

"The weather patterns seem to be changing," Michael Jennings, a spokesman for PSEG Power, part of New Jersey's largest electric and gas utility, told NJ.com. "We've got to adapt to it, and we've got to harden the grid."

But that's easier said than done. Over the weekend, The New York Times noted the U.S. is still shooting itself in the foot when it comes to the state of its national power grid, because competing and conflicting government and commercial interests prevent the effective, economical transmission of power to where it's needed.

"Expanding and modernizing our electric grid can provide improved access to remote sources of solar and wind energy, reduce power outages, and save consumers money," the White House recently announced as part of the Obama administration's plan to further develop and secure the nation's energy sources.

And The Times notes that several hundred engineers are completing a three-year effort on a hypothetical redesign of the so-called Eastern Interconnection. That's the energy grid used by a huge portion of the nation's population, stretching south from Canada and down to the Gulf Coast.

But while the plans, technology and even the funding may be available to improve the electrical grid and make it more cost-efficient, reliable and environmentally friendly, a lot of the major players aren't playing. As Douglas Gotham, an industry analyst at Purdue University, told The Times, "There are participants who have a vested interest in the high price of electricity, not the low price of electricity."

James Hoecker, a former member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, says another big challenge comes from what he calls "resource nationalism," whereby states disdain getting power from their neighbors, even if it's more economical, in favor of using local resources.

"We're a superpower with a Third World energy grid," former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who was also energy secretary during the Clinton administration, said after the 2003 power outage that left 50 million people in the U.S. Northeast and Canada without electricity.

Maybe it will take another Sandy, or worse, to remind us that the nation has alternatives to plunging large swaths of the country into darkness yearly.

More on moneyNOW

Jul 16, 2013 9:14AM
Too bad we didn't use the money from the "stimulus bill" to address our aging infrastructure.  We could have done a lot with that trillion bucks to fix our grid, water treatment systems, bridges, dams, etc...
Jul 16, 2013 10:00AM
The DC crowd can instantly give free money to the banks or call out a political foe in ten seconds. They are; however, unable to complete the most basic tasks that benefit everyone, especially the regular folks, but no elite by name, so nothing is important enough to get done.  And Americans keep electing these clowns over and over. 
Jul 16, 2013 9:58AM
Hey MSN:  Why no comment option on the story of the hood rats going traybond in LA?
Jul 16, 2013 9:53AM
I wonder what the title of the job is at MSN for the person that decides which one of these stories can have blog comments and which ones can't?
Jul 16, 2013 11:57AM
Time for the electric compaies to pony up and fix their distribution system that the consumer has been paying into their profits (pockets) for years!
Jul 16, 2013 11:16AM

"We're a superpower with a Third World energy grid [. . ..]"


Don't make it worse than it already is. Lose the "We're Number One!" pre-game workup and try to deal with our Third World reality. You're suggesting that we've still got the time and the capabilities to be proactive in dealing with our corroded infrastructure or global warming's pending natural disasters.


Sorry, we're bankrupt (although not yet in bankruptcy proceedings.) It's all scramble and patchwork from now to the end, and being honest about where we're at would be a good beginning. 

Jul 16, 2013 12:03PM
We're a government "of the people, for the people, by the people", and when the people don't participate, the vested interests win by default. When is the last time anyone went to a city council meeting?
Hmmm let's see tens of millions of Americans unemployed. Tons of raw materials just lying around under the seas or land.

Why don't our leaders lead and put those unemployed people to work building new power plants and transmission lines and fixing other things that are wrong?

Gee Marx was right during a depression you will see unemployed people starving on the streets while factories and house stand empty.

Pretty much western capitalism is a one of the most horrible means of getting things done.

Jul 16, 2013 12:41PM
Can I hear a hand for the money spent on ethanol. and a few other choice projects?
Jul 16, 2013 1:14PM
To see evidence of this, look no further then the Northern P****ject in NH. PSNH (the ones that went bankrupt funding the Seabrook Nuke plant and were later allowed to pass that cost onto their subscribers) are now trying to fund  an antiquated , environmentally horrible hydroelectric passage to several NE states. They want to use large metal towers through conservation land to bring hydro power from Canada to other NE states (none being NH... NH residents will never see 1KW) They have repeatedly refused to put the lines underground and instead will be erecting high metal towers through mountain ranges and forests, that will eventually rust. These towers will not only ruin the view and untouched forests that bring in huge revenue from tourists to NH, but will need to be serviced when they break due to weather etc. Which will mean PSNH will need to create rds, etc to these towers.  I'm sure that once again, they will be allowed to pass all their costs onto their subscribers that are helpless to do anything about the raising rates! Thanks PSNH for sending out that informative brochure last week explaining how great this will be for NH!!
Jul 17, 2013 2:48PM

where's all that stimulus money? it went to big unions, soylandra and other green companies owned

by friends and family of Obama and democrats! and they want more??? where does the sales tax on

our gas go? it's suppose to fix roads but it's never used for that and they want more! Obama's Nazi

EPA is shutting down business with over regulations causing food gas energy prices to keep rising!

Obama and progressives are holding back the economy to push their failed agenda! how about

getting back billions from Soylandra and other failed green companies? none of you libs can name


Jul 17, 2013 1:59AM

Here's an idea, how come we don't take the money from Two unfounded Wars and rebuild our Infrastructure....Instead of Iraq's and Afghan's..


The cost plus the bags of monies we send to these bastards ought to do it..

How many jet planes does it take to build a bridge, or maybe a ship or two.??


And our Construction guys won't get killed by Roadside IUDs either...

A lot of win-win-win scenarios.

Jul 17, 2013 2:18PM
President went for a smart grid his first term. Party of no said 'No way! We need to drill more.'  Now it's an issue again, perhaps, I suppose, on the net.

Maybe with more rolling brown outs, there'll be some impetus for improvement. Seems to take a crisis to get politicos off their duffs and away from lobbyist buffet tables.
Jul 16, 2013 9:32AM
Too bad we didn't stop Big Oil and Big Utility from mesmerizing low intellect seniors, Republicans and evangelists about naturally-occurring energy sources. When there were only 5 gas stations across the country, gasoline-power was a problem. Before coal it was Whale Oil (an industry that wrote the Big Oil's book on how to foil your successor industry). Think it through idiots... you'll be too old to fire your gun and protect your gold while your Wal-Mart GMO food rots and your faucet stops providing water because you supported Global Warming and Corporate Oligarchy over American Ingenuity.  
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