The continuing repairs to the grid across unlucky parts of Michigan, Ontario, New York and Maine clearly shows the weaknesses in our electrical grid and how susceptible it can be to the whimsy of Mother Nature. One sort of expects a power grid to be disrupted on a grand scale by powerful weather forces like hurricanes and tornadoes. This time it was an ice storm and another recent outage here in Michigan was solely due to gusty winds as a cold front came through. On other occasions it has been thunderstorms, accidents, or overloaded networks.
As a result of the uncanny number of power outages, many people here in Michigan have started incorporating generators into their newly built homes or are adding them as a stand-alone or portable unit. Is it any surprise that they are sick and tired of being left in the dark and cold?
Following this most recent ice storm, one could have become quite wealthy selling generators door-to-door or at local street corners. My guess is the same is true in other hard hit cities like Toronto. The problem is that this doesn’t solve the problem of a shitty electrical grid, it only puts the onus on you and me instead of those whose “charge” (bad pun) is to provide safe, reliable, efficient, and cost-effective electricity. Otherwise, we become part of the problem for our willingness to tacitly and meekly accept third-rate utility services.
Aside from my previous blog post question of why aren’t more power lines put underground to avoid such outages, larger questions arise to why are we so accepting of an half-ass and unreliable electrical grid? Why aren’t regulators, politicos, the media, and the general public taking our utilities to the proverbial woodshed over such lousy service, short-sighted maintenance, and slow to lackluster responses to outages. Please note – I am not criticizing the average Joe or Josephine who works long, tiring hours to repair the fallen lines. Instead, my criticism is specifically meant for utility management, its bean counters, and the shareholders who only care about next quarter’s financial results and not long-term improvements that matter.
Just a couple of decades ago, such large-scale power outages were rare and those that did occur were resolved quickly. Today, who the heck knows? Somewhere, sometime, some place, someone has to be held accountable for poor customer service – at least that is what those who preach capitalist, market-driven economics claim. Aside from being an obvious life and death issue in the winter, the loss of power can be deadly anytime during the year for infirmed or bedridden residents. Lastly, but not least this is also an important economic development issue. What business (in its right mind) would choose to locate in a community with an unreliable power grid?
If corporations are people too (according to the United States Supreme Court) then they are the ones whose feet should be held to the fire. No more duck and cover from responsibility behind an army of lawyers. Either put up or perhaps utilities with ongoing grid maintenance and reliability issues should have their franchise agreements, their certifications, their monopoly/near monopoly status, and/or their regulatory status revoked or transferred to another entity that gives a damn.
12/30/13 update: at least 3,000 homes remain without power in Greater Lansing, fully eight days after the ice storm ended.