This Power Outage Did Not Come Out Of The Blue

The grid has been the subject of underinvestment for the past decade, and lots of industry folks, industry analysts, and government officials have put their heads together to think about how to make the grid more robust for the 21st century. This Washington Post article puts it nicely:

The country’s halting moves toward electricity deregulation over the past decade have dramatically increased the volume of power flowing on the grids.

But the transmission towers themselves remain the stepchildren of the nation’s energy infrastructure. People don’t want them in their back yards or on their farms. Energy companies aren’t interested in building them. And while the system is linked together with advanced computer systems, much of the equipment that opens and closes connections around the nation’s three major grids is 1950s vintage, officials said. ,,,

The nation’s major utility companies, which own the bulk of the transmission lines, often balk are sharing them with competing independent merchant power providers that have been building generating stations along the lines, hoping to take customers away.

As deregulation flourished, investment dwindled in transmission lines, whose profits are limited by regulation.

For example, the Department of Energy’s National Transmission Grid Study 2001 highlighted a lot of the issues that we are now confronting in crisis mode. And the Center for the Advancement of Energy Markets Infrastructure Forum, in which I participated, issued this white paper on infrastructure reliability. CAEM also has a Grid Enhancement Forum Project that illustrates the approaches that we could use to get a robust 21st century grid.