The Groaning Power Grid

Amid the din of conversations about how South Dakota alone gets enough wind to power a quarter of the country, or the huge efficiency gains of nuclear power, or how harnessing the movement of the tides could provide 20% of Britain’s energy needs, one important fact gets lost: The power grid in the U.S. has barely been upgraded in 20 years, and is nowhere near ready to move vast amounts of power across long distances. As energy demand rises and we start to look at large centralized installations (wind, hydro, nuclear, other), we overlook a politically inconvenient truth – without vast investments in the power grid itself, all that new energy isn’t going anywhere. The grid is already full-to-bursting, and moving lots of energy across long distances is a giant headache.

When the builders of the Maple Ridge Wind farm spent $320 million to put nearly 200 wind turbines in upstate New York, the idea was to get paid for producing electricity. But at times, regional electric lines have been so congested that Maple Ridge has been forced to shut down even with a brisk wind blowing.

“We need an interstate transmission superhighway system,” said Suedeen G. Kelly, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Music: Rail Band :: Balakononifing

2 Replies to “The Groaning Power Grid”

  1. Amid the din of partisan fisticuffs in Washington we’ve let our nation’s infrastructure — from roads, to rails, to levees, to bridges, to power grids — deteriorate to unacceptable levels. Washington, DC itself is an unmaintained embarrassment. The Nation’s lawn is dying and muddy and their are “temporary” security concrete blocks everywhere. No one is doing anything about it. But, don’t worry we’re going to win that war in Iraq and bail out Wall Street. We know what matters…

  2. Having lived for many years in another country, I get to have an idea about the way a different course of action could have led to different results.

    I tend to believe that developing the infrastructure should be funded from taxes, and organized centrally in order to get a result that makes some sense. That’s primarily because major infrastructure investments don’t have returns on the time scales that the shareholders of the companies traded on wall street expect (i.e. it can take much more than 3 to 5 years to get profit flowing out). That’s the exact same reason why France has a reasonably decent passenger train network: they’ve been working on high speed trains for a long time, starting to test fast trains more than half a century ago – and such long-term thinking is what’s very hard for a publicly traded company to get form its shareholders.

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