FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Which Electric System Do We Want?

One thing is certain about the power outage that affected 50 million people in seven states on Thursday: It shows how much the nation’s security, economy and basic services rely on electricity. This raises a question: Why we would risk turning over our electric system to those who seek only short-term profits? It is also a strong argument against the electricity provisions in federal energy legislation (H.R. 6) that would promote the kind of deregulation that also brought us the West Coast energy crisis. These flawed policies are destined to worsen the dangers of an overly centralized, profit-driven electric generation and distribution system.

By all expert accounts, there was plenty of power available at the time of the blackout, but something or someone overloaded the wires to move it to markets. Electric deregulation provides incentives for just such overloads, since generators must sell as much as possible to make profits. Electric deregulation also provides disincentives to make necessary repairs or additions to the transmission system or to employ adequate maintenance personnel, because these essential measures diminish profits.

Building and centralizing control over more high-voltage transmission lines will be expensive, especially if left to the “market.” This market is already demanding “incentives” for expanding the transmission grid. Such expansion benefits the generators by increasing their reach but leaves the rest of the country even more vulnerable to widespread power outages, whether caused by greed for profits, by terrorists, or simply by acts of God.

The call by Senate Republicans for greater reliance on nuclear power must also be seen in a new light following the massive loss of electricity, which required nine nuclear power reactors to shut down. Sudden reliance on backup diesel generators is less than reassuring, especially considering that there have been 15 instances in the past 12 months in which emergency generators have either malfunctioned or failed to operate at all, in certain cases leading to a plant shutdown; on several occasions all backup generators failed at once. One, Fermi, located uncomfortably close to Detroit, found all four of its backup generators simultaneously inoperable on February 1 of this year. While a plant can last between two and eight hours without backup generators before melting down, Detroit may go through the weekend before seeing full power returned, rendering the concept of such a blackout leading to a nuclear meltdown not at all beyond imagination or possibility.

And if this blackout had caused a meltdown or other severe accident, it appears that the emergency sirens in place to alert the proper officials and the public would not have operated due to a lack of power. In “event reports” submitted to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission yesterday, both the Indian Point and Ginna nuclear stations (both in New York) noted that some of their emergency sirens would have been rendered impotent due to the blackout. In the case of Indian Point, four surrounding counties would have been left in a tragic state of ignorance in the event of a meltdown.

WENONAH HAUTER is director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program.

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail