NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 22, 2005

While there have been no brownouts or rolling blackouts this summer, the energy industry and analysts disagree on exactly why the lights stayed on, says the Christian Science Monitor.

At the center of the debate is whether the electric industry has made headway in improving the reliability of America's power grid since the infamous blackout during summer 2003.

With a few exceptions, the United States has made considerable strides over the past two years in managing, producing and distributing electrical power, many industry analysts agree. A case in point is California -- since the brownouts of summer 2001:

  • Over 12,000 megawatts have come online in about 25 new generating plants and $3 billion is being invested in new facilities.
  • One key north-south transmission corridor has added a third transmission line, easing distribution state-wide like an extra line on a freeway.
  • Utilities have done a better job at such basics as better training and keeping power lines clear of falling debris.

Some analysts say it has simply been the turn of events that kept the lights mostly on this summer. Cooler weather in some regions -- especially California -- rain in the Northwest, which contributes to more robust hydroelectric generation, and the avoidance of electrical accidents coast to coast, are several factors.

According to Sterling Burnett (National Center for Policy Analysis), there really has been very little done to fix the energy grid of America, especially when you factor in the growing population needs and the mothballing of outdated equipment and plants.

So while the industry's communication and coordination may have improved some, the root of the problem remains: the amount of available power has not been increased that much, says Burnett.

Source: Daniel B. Wood, "Why the Lights Mostly Stayed on in the U.S. this Summer," Christian Science Monitor, September 20, 2005.

For text:


Browse more articles on Environment Issues