It lasted only a few hours, but Saturday’s blackout in New York City was a harbinger of worse things to come.
On the 42nd anniversary of the enormous 1977 blackout, and 16 years after the 2003 blackout that caused more than $1 billion in damage and claimed the lives of 90 New Yorkers, the energy infrastructure of America’s largest city remains vulnerable.
Thanks to Con Edison, power was restored within hours and catastrophe was averted. We can anticipate, however, that our aging transmission grid will combine dangerously with dwindling resources and rising demand to make blackouts more frequent.
New technologies make our lives better—but they eat up a lot of electricity. Yet while New York should be expeditiously adding new sources of generation, we’re actually losing them and not replacing them fast enough: when Indian Point shuts down in 2021, 2,000 megawatts of reliable 24/7 power will be gone.
The immediate replacement for Indian Point is natural gas—but with Albany doing everything it can to slow or stop new plants and pipelines coming online, we’ll likely be looking outside our state for a substantial portion of our electricity. That, in turn, means our old, fragile, and insufficiently updated transmission grid will be even more stressed than it is now.
Mechanical failures like Saturday’s are troublingly commonplace. Our government must prioritize investment in renewing and upgrading power lines and control systems throughout the state—a huge undertaking, most of which has been too long delayed.
Today’s circumstances tell us New York can count on more outages—but we can’t count on them being as localized as the last one. What we should be able to count on is an energy infrastructure prepared for the 21st Century—and 19 years into that century, it’s past time for Albany to act.
Arthur “Jerry” Kremer
Chairman, New York AREA
1177 Avenue of the Americas, 5th Floor