Nick Rosen | |
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.

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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.)

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