Recent vandalism of electrical power stations and the rolling blackouts associated with record cold temperatures have shed a light on an issue that politicians and global climate experts have ignored as they’ve pushed for green energy development- our infrastructure is aging and in desperate need of protection.
For several years, power companies have been dealing with vandalism that has taken down electrical systems on a region by region basis. Little has been said about these events to avoid unwanted attention to the ease of creating havoc in the electrical power grid that could be easily copied in other locations.
In November a Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative substation in Maysville was vandalized, resulting in a power outage for about 12,000 customers for two hours. Then, on Dec. 3, vandals shot at a Duke Power substation in Moore County which darkened the homes and businesses of approximately 40,000 customers for a week.
These events were followed by similar acts of vandalism on power systems in Washington state and Oregon. In Tacoma, WA burglars broke through fences at Puget Sound Energy, vandalizing the substation, which resulted in 14,000 customers losing power for over 17 hours on Sunday, Christmas Day.
Kim Bellware, reporting on the story for the Washington Post, noted that “these incidents come as a rise in the number of human-caused power grid attacks and disruptions deepen concerns over the vulnerability of the United States’ aging and strained grid infrastructure.”
The “strained grid structure” of the nation’s infrastructure was felt across the country Christmas week as power companies struggled to fulfill growing service demands as the country was gripped by record setting cold temperatures.
Because of excessive demands for the state’s energy needs during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Duke Energy instituted rolling blackouts that left many without power for upwards to four hours when temperatures were at their lowest.
For Carteret County residents on both the Duke and Carteret Craven system there was another reminder of the stresses on the county’s grid system on New Year’s Eve, as over 20,000 customers were without power again for almost four hours.
None of these outages or rolling blackouts are new. They have been experienced over the past decade in other regions such as in California this past summer and in Texas in Feb. 2021. Texas was a significant story as an ice storm created power outages across the state resulting in hundreds of deaths and almost $195 billion in property damage.
Now that North Carolina is the 10th largest state in the union and one of the fast growing states in the country, it has joined those other more industrialized states that have had to deal with stresses on their infrastructure.
As Gov. Roy Cooper, along with federal regulators, are demanding answers from the utility companies, it would be appropriate for the governor to look within the state government for answers as well.
The various utilities, water, electrical and communications systems are operated by private companies that fall under the rubric of a government controlled monopoly. Due to the expense of operations and the need to provide service to a broad region, privately operated utility companies enjoy a monopoly within designated geographic regions.
To assure the customers of these utilities are being treated fairly and appropriately, the private companies are subject to government oversight through utility commissions which negotiate fees and services on behalf of the public. In addition to oversight of fee structures, utility commissions also approve the construction of infrastructure for these services through various regulatory commissions.
So, while it is the utility that is ultimately responsible for the security and stability of the services being provided, the local, state and even federal governments play a key role in the process, a role that, based on recent events, has been ignored.
But it is more than the electric power grid that needs attention; so do our water and communications systems and gas pipelines.
On several occasions, breaks in the nation’s fiber-optic system have shut down communications in broad regions of the county. In May of 2021, a cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline disrupted the flow of fuel for the southeastern region of the country, which required emergency fuel supplies to keep the region’s economy operating. The problem was eventually solved after a $4.4 million ransom was paid by the pipeline company.
An often overlooked utility that is slowly coming to the forefront of concern is water infrastructure. While the west is suffering from years of drought that have dried up water resources, large cities such as Jackson, MS have discovered that their water systems are failing due to water intrusion.
In August of this year, Jackson’s water system was contaminated by the Pearl River, which flooded the city following heavy rainfall. Corrective action following the flood uncovered pre-existing conditions that resulted in the federal government stepping to manage and operate the city’s water system. In the meantime, Jackson’s 180,000 residents were forced to rely on bottled water for almost two months. The system failed again over the Christmas holiday.
For too long politicians have been responding to the panicked calls from global climate activists to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and focus instead on “green” or renewable energy. In the process of throwing time and money at these questionable endeavors, little has been done to strengthen and secure our existing distribution systems - the infrastructure.
With the continuing degradation of infrastructures in all the utility systems across the country, more focus is needed on the maintenance and expansion of these systems now, before it is too late. That focus begins with governments at every level, federal, state and local, working with their various utility companies to assure the delivery systems are functional, adequate and secure.