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U.S. Power Grid Unreliability Enabled By Legislation

For the past 70 years, federal laws have played a vital and necessary role in the operation, production, distribution and protection of the electrical power grid throughout the United States. Federal laws in concert with state regulations have ensured that the power grid not be subject to criminal behavior and market manipulation, for most of that time. However, over the past several years, the fragility of the power grid’s infrastructure combined with mandated deregulation of the utilities industry has seen less necessary routine maintenance, upgrades in technology as well as necessary investment in research and development.

While it seems that most everyone believes that the power grid woes culminated with the rolling blackouts of 2000-2001 in California, the initial concerns with major outages go back to November 1965 when power went out from New York City, New York state, all of New England and parts of Pennsylvania. That outage however was not caused by insufficient capacity, but a surplus of capacity which the New York grid was unable to accept from the interconnected New England grid.

The excess supply during the ’65 blackout was too much of a surge for most of the utilities whose power went out for over 30 million people. It was not a supply problem but insufficient line capacity. In 2003, 50 million customers were without power for almost the entire Northeast. Again, it was not lack of supply but a downed power generator near Cleveland, Ohio combined with a downed line from lack of tree trimming which failed to provide full capacity for the areas’ needs; a domino effect of failures, human error and lack of compatibility of computer programs. In addition, some competing generating companies did not share data and there was a failure by the Ohio utility to be able to interpret computer data they did receive outside of its local geographic region.

In 1968, the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) was formed by the federal government in response to the 1965 blackout to serve as a watchdog group for monitoring operational compliance of the national electric grid. In 1972, the Electric Reliability Institute (EPRI) was formed to help in delivering high-value technological inroads through research and development. Yet, it has been recently and incorrectly reported that the NERC was just recently formed to comply with the 2005 Energy Policy Act.

The “energy crisis” in California has now been well-documented that there was not a shortage of power but a manipulation of the electricity market which was to blame. However, the federal government must bear some of that blame due to the    Newsrooms exemption of federal statutes which holding companies such as Enron were able to overcome in its blind greed.

Once again, the heat wave of the summer of 2006 has resurrected the age-old question of power production in the U.S. But equally as revealing is the non-disclosure of the basis for the primary problems with the grid’s operational capacity. While transmission lines were added since 1965 and nuclear reactors proliferated in the U.S. primarily in the 1970’s as national growth ensued, little has been done to ensure the reliability of the local infrastructure of the power grid. Its accountability has been based upon a good faith measure. And most consumers have no idea that the divestiture of their utility companies nationwide contributed to their now captivity by several holding companies in many cases owning their once reliable power provider./

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