Who has the power?

The WSJ has several good piece on electric power in the United States, many of which are relevant to my recent podcast with Ezra Klein. Starting with the increased unreliability of America’s electric grid.

The U.S. power system is faltering just as millions of Americans are becoming more dependent on it—not just to light their homes, but increasingly to work remotely, charge their phones and cars, and cook their food—as more modern conveniences become electrified.

… Much of the transmission system, which carries high-voltage electricity over long distances, was constructed just after World War II, with some lines built well before that. The distribution system, the network of smaller wires that takes electricity to homes and businesses, is also decades old, and accounts for the majority of outages.

We need more power but are relying on transmission lines we put into places decades ago when we could still build things. The second WSJ article is on the 17-year travail to get a new power cable from hydropower rich Quebec to Boston.

Blackstone made other discoveries that altered the project. Its environmental consultants spent the summer of 2010 watching patches of blue lupine for endangered Karner blue butterflies and frosted elfins, a threatened species. They spotted two Karners and wrote a plan for avoiding damage to the wildflowers upon which the butterflies rely. Arrangements were also made to protect bald eagle nests that might be present during construction and identify shagbark hickories big enough for the endangered Indiana bat to roost.

When it became clear developers wouldn’t get state approval to dig beneath Haverstraw Bay, where endangered Atlantic sturgeon live, they redrew the route again.

These adjustments weren’t enough to stop opposition from several groups that normally aren’t aligned: the Sierra Club, energy companies, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and a labor union. Sierra Club argued that importing power threatened the development of in-state renewable-energy projects and could cause environmental damage in Canada.

That stand put the environmental advocacy club on the same side as the operator of a soon-to-close nuclear power plant called Indian Point as well as the Business Council of New York State and the Independent Power Producers of New York Inc., which fought the line on behalf of entrenched electricity providers.

Lawmakers objected for local reasons, with one saying he didn’t like that the power line’s energy would bypass dozens of upstate counties. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 97 argued it threatened upstate renewable projects, would eliminate the need for additional gas-fired plants and “be deleterious of New York state energy jobs.”

The developers pledged $40 million to train New Yorkers for green-energy jobs and agreed to fund an environmental trust with $117 million. The trust would help pull invasive plants from Lake Champlain, restore oyster reefs around New York City and pay for implanting acoustic transmitters in adult sturgeon so scientists could study the fish.

Blackstone still faces one last step: That supply contract needs the approval of the New York Public Service Commission. One group that still opposes it is Riverkeeper, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the Hudson. Riverkeeper initially supported the project before turning against it in 2019, saying the transmission line could lead to additional dams in Quebec that would possibly expose indigenous groups to methylmercury—a neurotoxin created by microbes in freshly flooded soils that can pass up the food chain to people who live off the land.

Hydro-Québec, the supplier of power to Champlain Hudson, has no plans for new hydropower facilities, its CEO said. There have also been no reported cases of mercury poisoning resulting from consuming fish caught in Hydro-Québec’s reservoirs during more than 40 years of monitoring, according to a spokeswoman.

…“The last thing we want is more dams because of new markets,” said John Lipscomb, a patrol-boat captain and vice president for advocacy for Riverkeeper. “We are investigating and will continue to look at opportunities to stop the project.”

So there you have it, a power line that could benefit millions is threatened by a brew of “Baptists” defending a few flowers and fish, bootleggers protecting their rents, shakedown artists trying to get a share of the proceeds and hysterics longing for a return to the state of nature.

Addendum: Oh yes, the third relevant piece is about how Americans are turning to their own generators and batteries (expensive and not exactly environmentally friendly) to try to deal with the unreliable grid. I will be getting one of these systems for my own home, which also came up in the podcast with Klein.


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