On a hot day in August 2003, a stretched transmission line tripped after dipping into an overgrown tree in Ohio. Soon after, multiple transmission lines nearby also tripped beginning what would become the second-largest blackout at that time in history, impacting eight Northeastern states and Southern Canada. Since this massive blackout and concerns about grid reliability, power generation in the United States has changed dramatically both in form and quantity.
In 2005, Congress recognized the need for mandatory grid reliability standards and expanded the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) authority to regulate the bulk power system. However, despite FERC’s efforts to improve grid reliability, many grid infrastructural shortcomings remain today. These shortcomings exist due to the fact that power transmission and distribution systems still rely on outdated technology. In addition, as of 2013, the average age of a U.S. power plant was 30 years while 70% of the grids’ transmission lines and transformers are 25 years or older.
Under these circumstances, it is easy to recognize the grid’s vulnerability to extreme weather events, e.g. Super Storm Sandy, Polar Vortexes, and terrorist activity. Congress must do more than simply acknowledge these threats to the grid. It must reinforce this critical infrastructure by improving high voltage transmission lines and upgrading transformers to meet 21st century threats.
Congress can learn from New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative by investing in research and new technologies that will enhance grid reliability from extreme weather, cybersecurity and terrorist threats. This enhanced reliability will create opportunities to integrate clean energy projects which improves overall grid resiliency. This nation cannot afford to continue deferring federal investments in smart grid and clean technologies that will move us towards a reliable and resilient energy future. Access to affordable and reliable electricity is fundamental to a modern society. With vital federal investment, we can build a smarter, more reliable grid today and develop a clean energy future of tomorrow.