Let's deregulate even more essential services!

I mean, for fuck’s sake, does the entire continent have to plunge into darkness for days before politicians stop bowing to lobby groups and modernize the goddamn power grids in the US and Canada? What happened today is a direct result of all the deregulation of the past decade. Since damn near everything about the old power companies was privatized, nobody in the private sector wants to spend the money needed to upgrade the systems. That would cost billions and cut into the bottom line, of course, and having extra lines might actually drive the market price down, so we can’t have that, even though the demand for electricity is growing all the time.

So we get what we had today. And don’t compare this to the rotating blackouts in California. Or anything else. There’s never been a blackout this big before, anywhere. It was pretty scary being in the middle of it, knowing that nobody had electricity all the way to Ohio. Especially in the beginning, when everyone was talking terrorist this and terrorist that. It’s a good thing the power started going up within five or six hours (in Eastern Ontario, I was out from 4:10 till about 9:50), otherwise I think we would have seen some serious widespread problems. And it’s still disconcerting that nobody seems to have a clue what caused the outage. Meaning that terrorism can’t be ruled out, no matter what Bush says. More importantly, it could happen again at any time, especially as the heat wave of the past couple weeks continues.

Also, imagine if something like this had hit the entire Northeast in January. It would cost billions and kill thousands. We had something like that in early 1998 in the ice storm that took out power across Quebec and Eastern Ontario for weeks in some places (we were out here for four days). It caused billions in damage. Spread that across 100 million people or so and it would flat-out cripple the North American economy. 9-11 would be a drop in the bucket compared to something like that.

Man, I really hope people in the right places hear this wakeup call.

Uh, has anyone verified the problem was actually a deregulation-induced lack of transmission capacity?

isn’t it funny how people go apeshit over 1 day without power while people in Iraq haven’t had it for months? Maybe Cleve was right, our society is on thin ice. There are too many interdependencies and fragilities that can cripple our way of life in an instant. People need to go camping every once in a while and remember what it’s like to live without electricity…and cell phones.

Since damn near everything about the old power companies was privatized, nobody in the private sector wants to spend the money needed to upgrade the systems.

No, these private companies were granted monopolies by local and state governments who allow them to charge infrastructure ‘taxes’ on their invoices and reap jaw dropping profits - every quarter. What do they do with that tax money? Who knows. Here’s a jaw dropper for McCullough: Mayby the local gov’s should be handling these excise taxes for infrastructure improvement, not the power companies, who, as you said, have no insentive to build new transmission facilities.

I guess you’re referring to regulators let power companies sell bonds for major capital improvements, and pay for them with separate line-item collections? What does that have to do with anything?

Mulligan, try talking about that camping crap to someone in the hospital. Or an elderly person surviving the current heat wave thanks to her air conditioner. I’m not going apeshit over not having power – I don’t think anybody is around here – but I am going apeshit over the fact that it was allowed to happen. The grid has been allowed to deteriorate unchecked in the midst of growing energy demand ever since the rush got going to privatize everything about ten years ago. Something like this happens during the winter and thousands die and we’ve got a major natural disaster on our hands.

And Jason? What’s your fetish for arguing any opposing point, no matter what? Nobody’s disputing that there are major problems with the power grid, and that things have been going downhill ever since governments let private concerns control the lines and generating stations. I mean, almost every single news report cited this as a major issue. Because it’s all about the bottom line now, companies won’t spend the big bucks needed to make sure the system has added capacity for really hot and really cold days. Having the added supply might also bring down prices, since much of the commodities market is based on supply, of course. You could see the same thing happen with electricity that’s happening with gas reserves. So what we’ve got is a patchwork system that’s barely enough to cover average power days, let alone a sweltering August day with temps at 100 or more with the humidity. It’s pretty easy to see why things have gotten screwed up; there’s no need to get into bond issues, line-item collections, or anything else.

And a huge blackout’s been predicted for years now. That’s all we’ve been hearing about in Ontario for three years, ever since the provincial government decided to privatize Ontario Hydro. Bill Richardson even said that last night on Larry King, so it’s not like Americans didn’t realize what was going on, too.

Greg Palast adds a few pieces to the puzzle:

Meanwhile, the deregulation bug made it to New York where Republican Governor George Pataki and his industry-picked utility commissioners ripped the lid off electric bills and relieved my old friends at Niagara Mohawk of the expensive obligation to properly fund the maintenance of the grid system.

And the Pataki-Bush Axis of Weasels permitted something that must have former New York governor Roosevelt spinning in his wheelchair in Heaven: They allowed a foreign company, the notoriously incompetent National Grid of England, to buy up NiMo, get rid of 800 workers and pocket most of their wages - producing a bonus for NiMo stockholders approaching $90 million.

Is tonight’s black-out a surprise? Heck, no, not to us in the field who’ve watched Bush’s buddies flick the switches across the globe. In Brazil, Houston Industries seized ownership of Rio de Janeiro’s electric company. The Texans (aided by their French partners) fired workers, raised prices, cut maintenance expenditures and, CLICK! the juice went out so often the locals now call it, “Rio Dark.”

“And Jason? What’s your fetish for arguing any opposing point, no matter what?”

No, I just think its a bit early to start blaming anyone; they still haven’t officially determined what caused it, for chrissakes. I fully expect it to end up being Bush’s fault - god knows everything else seems to be - but we can wait a week.

I heard some stuff on NPR today about how the GOP voted down a grid modernization bill, so it sounds likely.

Funny how it was a cascading failure that was caused in canda, where everything is nice and regulated…

For the last fucking time, it’s not regulated here! Ontario’s the same as the US. And for not the last fucking time, I’m sure, nobody knows where the power problem started yet. Everybody seems to be looking at the Midwest right now, though. Demand apparently went up-and-down nuts there, the system in Ontario went huh? and then everything started to blink out. I don’t blame any one system or government for the problem; the whole thing is screwed up on both sides of the border because of widespread deregulation and privatization.

Brett, you make a good point, but the question I have is whether putting the utilities under government control would make things any better. They’d still have to get the money to do the upgrades, and now you’d have politicians having to raise taxes to pay for the upgrades - not a politically popular move. Nor am I convinced that the government is very effective at making anything better. From what I’ve read, even before this happened, many of the facilities in question haven’t been suitably upgraded for decades, including the time when they were regulated and under government control.

And of course this will all be Bush’s fault - I’m sure the position papers are being passed around. Which means that rather than a rational bipartisan federal examination of what happened and what needs to be done to solve the problem and action, with calm examinations of the most effective options, we’ll just get a huge amount of rabid posturing and name-calling. Ugh.

Bush’s fault or not he needs to get off his ass and do something about this one. I would say on his top ten priority list this is about number 3 with a bullet today.

Well, he has been making speeches about how the grids are old and the equipment needs updating. he makes it sound like he has been pushing for it all along, so he will probably come out of this one looking much cleaner than he should…at least to most Americans. I’m just glad it happened on his watch. I don’t like for bad things to happen and I don’t think it is fair to blame everything on the President. But both happen, and I am all for whatever it takes to keep Bush from being re-elected ;).

Tentative conclusion so far: this happened because transmission capacity had insufficent backup built in at one point to handle a producer cutting out, and this caused a cascading network crash.

Transmission capacity, of course, is the classic free-rider problem. No private business one wants to pay to expand it because everyone else will just freeload. Governments tends to be the solution to the free-rider class of problems…

Bureaucrats are the ultimate free riders, Jason.


(Just kidding. Mostly.)

Here’s a rather in depth article explaining how the so called “de-regulation” in california led to their power woes.

The political impulse to “do something” often leads to something far worse than the original problem. You can’t regulate your way out of a power shortage.

Everything should be regulated by me. It would be an absolute mess, but at least you’d know why.

That Reason article is such a mix of outright lies and technically-correct-but-misleading-emphasis facts that I don’t know where to start.

You should see our moron leader, Crouton – he hasn’t made a single appearance since 30% of the country lost all power. His drunken defence minister blamed a fictitious nuclear accident in Pennsylvania (a statement so negligent and reckless in an emergency situation, he should be thrown in jail), while the PM’s office blamed “lightning” in New York.

Now Prime Minister Crouton’s office is announcing that he will not make any public appearances or statements whatsoever – despite the fact that a third of Canada has been reduced to the stone age – but he’s “monitoring the situation from his home in Quebec”. What a fucking joke.

Ouch! The least he could do was get in front of a camera and bullshit his way through a speech. Well, good luck with that. :wink:

The solution to the wake-up call is called Integral Fast [Nuclear] Reactors, and you can thank the Clinton Administration for cancelling the test program in 1994.

Does it piss anyone off all the goddamned NIMBY fuckers who rally against nuclear, fossil fuels, and hell, wind generators in Cape Cod, go to their Greenpeace and Green party meetings, but don’t have a goddamned solution to the problem?

I blame them, not deregulation.

Put an IFR in my backyard. I mean, RIGHT in my fucking backyard. That way I’ll have all the power I need, and if it blows, I’ll be inside the insta-fucking-death radius.