Given the news about the expectation for very long term power outage in Puerto Rico (following Hurricanes Irma and especially now Maria), the Foundation fr Resilient Societies has circulated its testimony before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from June 17, 2017, as a pdf, link here. Resilient Societies (or “ResilientGrid”) believes that similar catastrophes can cascade on the US mainland from “natural causes” as well as enemy attack or sabotage, especially with climate change.
There are some relevant stories in the regular and conservative media. The Chicago Tribune, in a story by Steven Mufson, explains how the major power utility there was already bankrupt. Fox Business quotes the FEMA director as saying restoration will take six months.
The power company was using old technology (burning oil) and reflected the general financial problems for the territory. It’s worth mentioning that these problems already had the potential to harm some retirees living off accumulated investments, if their portfolios had invested in the territory’s bonds or in other riskier overseas ventures.
Nevertheless, ResilientGrid (based in New Hampshire) believes that the dire forecast for the territory warns what could happen to a populated region of the continental United States, especially the Northeast, if a major failure were to occur.
While extreme solar storms or enemy E3-level EMP are mentioned as risks, especially on some conservative websites (given the current crisis over North Korea), the ResilientGold paper shows that more ordinary breakdowns could lead to self-reinforcing and cascading failures. Once a failure has lasted more than a couple days, backup systems start to fail. The paper mentions perverse incentives in some utility companies to cut corners on resilience.
The paper particularly emphasizes a failure 14 years ago, in August 2003, related to an incorrectly configured loop in Ohio.
I recall a day line power failure in New York City in July 1977, in lower Manhattan, when I lived on 11th St. I worked on the 17th floor of a building om Wall Street at the time. Elevators did not run, but I actually climbed the stairs once that day. I was in good shape then.
Power in many areas of lower Manhattan, below 34th Street, were without power for a week after Hurricane Sandy because of a poorly located transformer, not high enough off water.
I also recall having no phone service for six weeks in 1975 in lower Manhattan after a telephone company building fire in lower Manhattan.
The devastation of Puerto Rico raises the question of my post Aug. 2, whether people hundreds of miles away should be prepared to host families if a whole area of the nation becomes uninhabitable for a while or even permanently. This fortunately has not happened on a large scale with Harvey or Irma. It did with Katrina. In the future, how would the financial system handle real estate that suddenly has zero value?
Picture of power outage in Manhattan from Sandy, wiki.
(Posted: Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017 at 3:30 PM EDT)