The heat waves of summer 2021 left the electricity distribution system in many states simply unable to meet the needs of consumers. In states like Washington, Idaho, Oregon, California and Nevada the grid simply collapsed under the weight of ratepayer demand. Thousands were left without power in each of these states, and thousands more were asked to turn off air conditioning and other needed technologies in order to prevent a complete collapse.
The shutdowns came just a handful of months after Texas power was driven to a standstill by February’s freezing temperatures, and only two weeks after the Texas grid nearly crashed again in its own heat wave. California’s grid has been under severe strain for years now.
Here in Pennsylvania, increased demand and aging infrastructure have been blamed for the problems with our grid. Some of the key issues noted by experts include:
- The failure of utilities to maintain grid capacity with timely replacement of old wiring and support systems, with few upgrades in recent years (and in spite of the millions of dollars they received for this purpose from PA’s de-regulation process),
- The failure of Pennsylvania authorities to allow private sector investors to fully fund renewable and other forms of generation to support local and micro-grids, which can supply communities in the event of a systemic grid blackout,
- The unwillingness of communities to permit the development of advanced energy systems, like large-scale solar,
- The failure of the government to provide sufficient grid security, and the lack of a comprehensive energy plan from our Pennsylvania legislature and governor.
Clean energy systems that are attracting more and more customers, like electric vehicles, require increased supply. As the Washington Post recently noted,
“The nation’s already strained power grid is either at a turning point or poised to dash all those clean-power visions as it crumbles under the new stresses being placed on it … perhaps the central issue is chronic congestion on the transmission lines that bring power from where it’s made to where it’s wanted.”
Renewable systems, run by local communities and farmers, could be a game-changer in the search for new solutions. But, local governments and utilities often drag their feet, preventing future systems from coming online:
“A larger problem is that wind, solar and other projects can wait for years before they get the green light to connect to transmission lines. Developers have to demonstrate, among other things, that the cost to upgrade those lines to carry their output is justifiable. A new study of five regions by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that fewer than a quarter of all proposed projects actually make it to commercial operation because of transmission hurdles. The rest are withdrawn.”
Will utilities and local governments help to improve the situation in Pennsylvania? Will our aging grid receive the repairs and upgrades that it needs? Citizen-led investments like Community Solar may help to answer these questions.