August 10th is a special event in the energy industry. It marks the tenth year since the famous Northeastern blackout plunged millions of people into total darkness. While some small pockets of the region escaped unscathed, the vast majority of the homes and businesses suffered some type of financial loss. The question is, ten years later, what have we learned?

There is no doubt that the national power system in 2003 was antiquated and in need of a dramatic upgrade. Federal investigations revealed that most of the independent operators who move the power from place to place were not ready for any type of high-level emergency.

The falling tree branch in Ohio that caused power outages throughout the east was an unwelcome event for many reasons. The people who monitor power movements were unable to cope with any serious crises. They were caught flat-footed as the power lines, heavily overloaded with power and no place to go, literally crashed and burned.

With each power explosion, transformer after transformer, shut down without warning with no master plan on how to contain the electrical storm surge. Some power system technicians, well trained for such combat, reacted quickly and efficiently to the challenge, and kept their communities safe from outages. Others panicked on the spot unsure how to contain this “perfect storm” of panic by the people whose job it is to deal with such calamities.

So, ten years later what have we learned? Updated emergency training has been implemented in many of the system operator’s headquarters. No person can sit in a control room who hasn’t been schooled on how to react to power surges. Systems that couldn’t react to power crises were upgraded to automatically shut down rather than transmit high levels of uncontrolled energy.

While experts talk about upgrading the system throughout the nation, the words “smart grid” are reserved for politicians and dreamers.

Is the northeastern power grid ready for the next power tsunami? Not quite. While experts talk about upgrading the system throughout the nation, the words “smart grid” are reserved for politicians and dreamers who envison a seamless delivery system. Fast moving power storms must be contained and most of the country isn’t ready for such happenings.

New York State is now the focus of the energy highway proposal made by Governor Cuomo. That proposed plan promises to create a reliable, durable and efficient power movement concept. It envisions an electric system that includes solar,wind, and new power generators. Literally hundreds of ideas have been presented to the state on how to create new power sources.

The biggest missing factor in the struggle to get reliable power sources is the fact that the investors who must make commitments in the billions of dollars have yet to surface. The Champlain Express, which proposes to bring massive power from Canada to New York City, is moving along slowly but with no guarantees that it will ever be built. 

Energy experts have long coveted cheap Canadian hydropower, but moving it into New York at an affordable price is by no means a guaranty. Once Canadian power is wheeled into this region, will it help keep down power costs or will New York be captive to out of state sellers of the same type as caused California to spiral into a cost crises?

Environmental advocates dream of a system supported by wind and sun, yet the possibility of this part of the country being blessed with an abundance of such power is remote. It is a simple fact-the sun doesn’t shine that often in Dunkirk, New York or Montauk Point. In North Dakota the wind blows furiously, but not in Buffalo.

Politics has also gotten into the way with respect to the Indian Point nuclear facility. Despite every sign that the facility will be relicensed for another 20 plus years, ratepayers around the state are being asked to pay an unnecessary premium for upgrades to portions of the system because of the political popularity among some zealots to shut the plan down at all costs.

The state’s experiment with hydro-fracking is another man made disaster. Instead of allowing this process to move forward on a planned and limited basis, bureaucratic delays have doomed hydrofracking from ever occurring in New York. The state of Pennsylvania is eating New York State’s lunch every day while opponents of hydrofracking make believe that it is the newest technology on earth in need of perpetual investigation.

So ten years later are we better off than we were back in those dark power outage days? The answer is yes, but not a lot better off than we could be at this time.


Jerry Kremer
About The Author Jerry Kremer [Full Bio]
Jerry Kremer was a New York State assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Jerry’s new book, Winning Albany, was released on October 8, 2013.

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