Letter Re: The Fragility of the US Power Grid

I enjoy your web site every day and am very close to the 10 Cent Challenge, I promise. I work for a medium sized electric utility in the west and I can tell you first hand how weak and ratty the executives have allowed the system to become. The name of the utility game has now become ‘defer maintenance to artificially inflate the price of your stock and pay your executives large salaries with massive stock options.’

In the old days we had over 250 guys in construction and maintenance staying on top of pole change outs, system upgrades, prescribed maintenance, etc. Now we have under 80 employees in that department and the system has doubled in size. The company, as most electric utilities have done, now depends on contractors to do the work, mostly to get away from paying for pensions and health care. Contractors that will leave in a moments notice for a better deal and more money.

Recently we had a flood in our main SCADA control office (because no one cleaned the silted over storm drains for years!) and most of the entire system for a city of a million people was off for about 12 hours. When it came back up our protective relays were out and the power kept going on and off. A large defense contractor, who makes cruise, tomahawk, maverick and other missiles for our military had to shut down production and send over 6,000 workers home because the power could not stay on.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. G. Gordon Liddy wrote an article in Omni magazine way back in the late 1980s that illustrated how vulnerable America’s electrical infrastructure really is. One man with a rifle can take out a substation transformer that costs a million dollars and takes a year to be delivered, if you are lucky enough to find one available. One company bought five substation transformers from India for $12 million, because they are desperate, and all five of them failed initial tests before they could be energized. They are now junk.

Buy a generator. Make sure that it will run on propane. The natural gas companies aren’t much better. – Cactus Jim