How the Grid was built (and why Energy companies are hustling us into paying for their Smart Grid)

Steinmetz - Grid designer at GE in 1920

My own, personal interest in off-grid living began in New York during the great power outage of 2003.  Here is an excerpt from Chapter Two of my book, Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America. It describes the building of the grid, and concludes that if the grid did not exist there would no longer be any need to invent it. This is just the first part of the chapter, but I hope the information in the full chapter paves the way for a serious debate about the so-called Smart Grid.  Locally distributed energy production is the best way forward- energy produced at the point of consumption.

BOOK EXCERPT:CHAPTER 2: How the Grid Was Won

On August 14, 2003, I was in New York, making a documentary for PBS’s Frontline. As I headed for the airport that day, I noticed bewildered groups standing at bus stops or walking in their business suits across the bridges.

There was a power outage across the city, I learned. No computers, no lights, no air-conditioning…I was one of fifty million affected across the North-eastern part of the United States….

On day one of the blackout the electricity industry went into high gear to deal with the situation. At the headquarters of the Edison Electrical Institute, the industry’s lobbying organization in Washington, D.C., executives realized immediately that they had a heaven-sent opportunity to set the terms of the debate.
Tom Kuhn, president of EEI, went on Larry King Live within hours and demanded that Congress provide “additional incentives to build infrastructure investment.”
The same day, David K. Owens, EEI’s executive vice president, told the Washington Post that the “transmission infrastructure needs to be strengthened.” The outage was due to the huge increase in the shipment of power across state lines, the Post reported. It failed to mention that this increase was one the EEI had lobbied for. The deregulation of the $400 billion-a-year industry had created phenomena such as Enron and also permitted non-utility companies to build power stations, but there was no corresponding incentive to beef up transmission lines.

Strongly supported by EEI, Senator J. Bennett Johnston (D-LA) had coauthored the Energy Policy Act of 1992, weakening the law restraining utility companies from engaging in other forms of business. Newer companies had taken advantage of the 1992 act to increase power generation, and the industry had left the lines to look after themselves. Now the utilities were going to blame the government and demand more money.

Advocates of utilities deregulation had always intended the process to lead to price cuts, just as it had in the phone and airline industries. Nothing of the sort happened. Deregulation failed partly because the legislation was framed so that no entity was in charge of overseeing the maintenance of the grid. This situation suited the utilities rather well and led directly to the 2003 blackout.

The next morning Tom Kuhn was back on ABC’s Good Morning America answering a question from Diane Sawyer about possible terrorist attacks. “The best, the best defense against cyberterrorism or terrorism in general is to have a robust transmission system,” the EEI president solemnly assured her. “A lot of people have mentioned how important it is for us to enhance the transmission system. We have the most reliable system in the world, but I think additional investment, [as] I’ve testified many times, is greatly needed.” (Investment by the government, that is, rather than power company shareholders.)

3 Responses

  1. “Howes stressed the importance of the local community and the employment of domestic staff.”

    Perhaps electrical power was seen as a savior by those householder who couldn’t afford domestic staff? The electrical appliances, and the power to operate had a cost, but one less than hired help. Point being that electrical power, and the appliances that consumed the power most likely weren’t a hard sell to those who could afford them. We today probably can’t appreciate the change electrical power repented in the daily live of many.
    I see again a comment associating terrorist attack & decentralization. Large population centers will be the target of choice for terrorists When/if their localized power generation is destroyed. Power from the grid will be that return there lives back to normal. That should be the case if the conversation doesn’t turn from lambasting the grid to improving it. The citizens of japan have learned how important electrical power is to modern life. They experienced a situation where those off-grid, or on localized generation wouldn’t have fared any better than those on the grid

  2. It makes no more sense to push electricity hundreds of miles using dangerously high voltages that is does to send water through hundreds of miles of pipeline. This is lunacy, sheer utter lunacy when solar and wind power can easily provide our electric power.
    What about more efficient electric motors that can run our electric gadgets on 12 or 24 volt power? What about developing more efficient light sources (LED is still expensive, but it needn’t remain so)

    What about all the overunity devices which are mysteriously pulled from YouTube for “Terms of Use Violations”?

    The best defense against terrorist attacks on our electric power distribution is DECENTRALIZATION.

    If the power I pay for is so good, why do my electronic sewing and knitting machines, my computer, and my TV all require not just surge suppressors, but power cleaning surge suppressors to smooth out the spikes and optimize their functioning?

    There is a hidden agenda which we are being told doesn’t exist. Our public fool systems are teaching our children to not ask questions. Wake up!

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