June 21, 2005
Fragile Systems - The Electric Grid
By: Rowan Wolf
The title says it all "A Flicker Away From a Blackout." Doug Struck's June 21st article about the power failure of Hydro One in Ontario states that we were 20 seconds away from a repeat of the massive August 2003 failure. One would think that might have motivated significant changes and rethinking about the North American grid system, but it apparently has not.
One would think that after the regional outage that effected tens of millions of people in the northeastern US and Canada, that there might be some thought about taking a different approach to power provision. Apparently the only thing that is being seriously considered is adding to the mess. The electric grid system has grown beyond either usefulness or sustainability in my opinion. De regulation in the US has only exacerbated the problems as "efficiencies" cut down on repair and replacement of failing lines and substations.
I think that we should seriously be looking at moving power back into the public domain, and localizing power systems. Public control of power systems would make them more responsive to the public's needs. Relocalizing systems and encouraging renewable energy systems and efficiencies would go a long way towards providing both a more secure system, and one that is less environmentally destructive.
Losing power can be more than inconvenient - it can be deadly. We are exposing the population to greater risks by not going a different path. The combination of problems with the existing grid system and its owners (private corporations), places control of a critical service in the hands of those who look purely to profit. This will only get worse unless we start addressing the issue now. Energy will become increasingly expensive as peak oil progresses. Increased utilization of natural gas for power generation is only slightly behind oil, and oceanic shipment will not be cheap.
It is frustrating to watch the same hole getting dug deeper and deeper - and at great expense. The electric generation system is part of the same problem and needs a fresh look.
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