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A. Siegel

A. Siegel

Posted: February 7, 2011 04:06 PM

In the face of the winter storm that hit the nation, Texans suffered a series of rolling blackouts as some 50 fossil-fueled power plants (coal and natural gas) shut down due to frozen pipes and other problems. In the face of readily available information, including from Texas' own grid-managers (ERCOT), there is a bevy of fossil-foolish commentators falsely asserting that 'greening' efforts are to blame for freezing Texans.  For example,


  • The Drudge Report has suggested that the Texas blackouts were "a direct consequence of the Obama administration's agenda to lay siege to the coal industry, launch a takeover of infrastructure under the contrived global warming scam, and help usher in the post-industrial collapse of America."

  • Rush Limbaugh has put the blame on 'federal red tape': "It's not just in Texas, that's everywhere. And, folks, let me tell you something: If Obama gets his way, rolling blackouts will be the new norm. What do you think 'green energy' is?"


These politically motivated and, well, simply false attacks threaten American prosperity and security.

In one of those outrageous attacks on American exceptionalism, The Report Card for America's Infrastructure, prepared by the American Society of Civil Engineers, gives the US Electric Grid a rating of D. Its summary says the following:

The U.S. power transmission system is in urgent need of modernization. Growth in electricity demand and investment in new power plants has not been matched by investment in new transmission facilities. Maintenance expenditures have decreased 1% per year since 1992. Existing transmission facilities were not designed for the current level of demand, resulting in an increased number of "bottlenecks," which increase costs to consumers and elevate the risk of blackouts.

When it comes of the threat to American national security, in 2008 (hint: under President George W. Bush), the Defense Science Board issued a report on energy (pdf) which identified two critical issues: reliance on liquid fuel (e.g., oil) and
Military installations are almost entirely reliant on a fragile and vulnerable commercial power grid, placing critical defense and Homeland security missions at risk of extended outage.

Often derided as environmentally driven "greening" of the military, military measures for improved fuel efficiency and to improve base electrical systems (smartgrids, energy efficiency, renewable energy produced on base, energy storage, (improved) data and control systems for power management, islanding of bases to keep them operating if the civilian grid is disrupted) are fundamentally about improving military capability (think longer range ships due to more efficient engines) and secondarily about (often significant) financial savings... and, well, they offer the tertiary benefit of reducing the military's carbon footprint.

The Department of Defense views (and did even during the Bush Administration) the antiquated electrical system as a threat to national security -- which extends well beyond the risk to military bases.

When it comes to economic impact, the best (rough) estimate of annual cost to the U.S. economy due to power outages: $100 billion or nearly 1 percent of the economy (pdf: page 4). For a fraction of that cost, investment in modernization of the grid (smartgrid and otherwise) would nearly eliminate that cost and provide other benefits (such as more efficient use of energy) that would boost the economy.

In other words, improving the U.S. electrical grid would improve national security, improve the economy, and improve our environmental situation.

Valuable reading: Gail E. Tverberg, The U. S. electric grid: will it be our undoing?, The Oil Drum

 

Follow A. Siegel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/A_Siegel