Power To The People
Almost as soon as the lights went out in parts of the northeastern
United States and Canada, those in the affected areas began
wondering, along with the rest of us: Did terrorists do this? What
a relief to find out they didn't. And how embarrassing to learn we
did it to ourselves.
Whatever the precise, technical cause of the blackout, one thing is
clear: Our energy situation is unsustainable.
The blackout demonstrated our thorough dependence on electric
power. Indeed, life in modern America without it seems impossible.
Yet the gap between consumption and production continues to widen:
We keep using -- and demanding -- more energy, while failing to
produce adequate supplies. Meanwhile, our aging energy
infrastructure sorely needs upgrading, as this day of darkness
illustrated. Unless we want to court more blackouts, along with
dramatically more expensive energy bills, we can't let this
Now that the immediate problems confronting the region are largely
fixed and investigators are taking a closer look at what caused
this incident, let's step back and take a brief look at the
underlying needs of our energy system today.
First of all, many are blaming our energy problems on deregulation.
This charge would be more plausible if deregulation existed
throughout the system, but it doesn't; only the supply of
electricity is deregulated. The problem occurred in transmitting
and distributing this electricity -- and that delivery system
So while the generation of electricity has evolved into a
competitive, deregulated environment, the delivery remains lodged
in another era. This needs to change. We should make it more
attractive for power companies to invest in upgrades and make it
easier for them to set up new transmission lines. By doing so,
we'll correct the imbalance between a deregulated supply of
electricity and a regulated means of delivering it.
But we can't stop there. Our nation's entire energy policy stands
in need of serious reform. However, federal lawmakers do little
more than talk, despite warning signs such as the California energy
crisis. They have debated many complex energy issues, yes, but they
have failed to pass any comprehensive plan. Apparently, it's easier
to delay, debate and obfuscate than to take the bold, decisive
actions needed here.
Certainly, they have their reasons. They debate bills that pander
to the extremists and leave America vulnerable to exploitation by
our enemies. They succumb to pressure from those who continue to
suck up energy but abhor any actual efforts to increase supply,
uttering protests of NIMBY. They can't decide whether to slap
restrictions on power companies that would retard energy production
and damage the economy or allow environmentally responsible oil and
natural gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
America needs an energy policy that produces stable, reliable and
affordable energy. Demand for energy over the next 20 years will
far outpace production unless the Congress can enact a responsible
and balanced energy policy.
What would such a policy entail? There are several common-sense
solutions we can pursue, and all revolve around the need to provide
greater access to reliable, affordable energy. The first one is
obvious: Upgrade the nation's energy infrastructure. By taking
specific steps to improve congestion management on the power grid
-- such as the use of newer technology that cuts down on the amount
of power lost during transmission along the grid lines -- we can
help prevent future blackouts.
Obviously, though, we need to do more than patch up the grid. We
Enhance domestic supplies through diverse fuel sources such as oil,
gas, coal, nuclear and hydropower. Increase our oil-refining
capacity. Reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Congress should
prepare to buckle down and pass an energy bill that will increase
the domestic supply and improve the delivery of reliable and
affordable energy for America. Our politicians should try to
exhibit the same problem-solving tenacity and teamwork as we saw
New Yorkers and other Americans display as they coped with the
blackout debacle. To do less would only set the nation up for even
more energy crises -- and leave the rest of the world shaking its
head in wonder.
Acosta Fraser is director of the Roe Institute
for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire