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After Recent US Storms, Why Are Millions Still Without Power?

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the probably-because-of-the-recent-us-storms dept.

Earth 813

Hugh Pickens points out a report from Jamie Smith Hopkins that "The unusual nature of the 'derecho' is complicating efforts to get everyone's much-needed air conditioning up and running again as more than 1.4 million people from Illinois to Virginia still remain without power and power companies warn some customers could be without power for the rest of the week in the worst hit areas. Utilities don't have enough staff to handle severe-storm outages – the expense would send rates soaring – so they rely on out-of-state utilities to send help, says Stephen Woerner, Baltimore Gas and Electric's (BGE) chief operating officer. Hurricane forecasts offer enough advanced warning for utilities to 'pre-mobilize' and get the out-of-state assistance in place but the forecast for Friday's walloping wind was merely scattered thunderstorms. 'No utility was prepared for what we saw in terms of having staff available that first day,' says Woerner. But is it a given that a strong storm would cause this magnitude of damage to the electricity grid? 'Even without pursuing the extremely expensive option of burying all of the region's electrical lines, the utilities can and do take steps between bouts of severe weather to prevent outages,' writes the Baltimore Sun, adding that consumer advocates are concerned that utilities invest sufficiently in preventive maintenance. 'Tree trimming and replacement of old infrastructure — particularly in areas that have been shown to be vulnerable to previous storms — helps prevent outages.'"

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Because Jimmy's a lazy sonofabitch! (2, Funny)

crazyjj (2598719) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527193)

Goddamn, napping on a man lift next to a downed livewire?!?! Who DOES that?!?!?

Without power? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527215)

Peop need to start becoming independent from utilities.
Drilling wells
Solar Powered roofs
Wind power

Re:Without power? (1)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527235)


Yes. You omitted the part about coming up witht he money for your solution.

Re:Without power? (1)

firex726 (1188453) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527289)

And where will they be put?

Many people are very NIMBY about solar and wind.

Re:Without power? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527381)

Many people are very NIMBY about solar and wind plants that are stuck into communities using imminent domain when their is any opposition, and that are run at a profit for private enterprise using public subsidies to make sure that there is no risk to our beautiful corporate overlords.


Re:Without power? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527567)

Put then windmills in the neighborhoods that use the power. Let them enjoy hearing "whoosh whoosh" all damn day.

Re:Without power? (3, Interesting)

stonedcat (80201) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527671)

I'd be more than happy to hear wooshing if it meant sustainable power with less interruptions. Honestly I don't see what the big deal is here. Where I'm at there are 3 sets of train tracks about 100yds from my building and I get along just fine. Can't imagine that a few wind turbines would be that much louder..

Re:Without power? (0, Flamebait)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527347)

or at the very least MULTIPLE lines into each development so that one downed line doesn't take out the area...

But that would require money for infrastructure investment which would create lots of jobs which would help the economy...

Which is why the GOP is against it...

Re:Without power? (3, Insightful)

hierofalcon (1233282) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527519)

Which would require multiple utility corridors all of which would need to be maintained, twice as many "unsightly" poles and twice the cost of running the service in the first place - read higher lot prices, twice the maintenance work to keep the trees cut back, twice as many unhappy homeowners as their trees that they planted to close to the right of way are cut back - "I didn't know it would grow that high!", lots of isolation and distribution stations where even more things could go wrong, and you'd still be at the same risk when a big storm hit.

If you don't like the situation, buy a big diesel generator and wire it in. Then have a big storage tank of diesel close by.

Re:Without power? (4, Insightful)

Loughla (2531696) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527591)

Remember - government spending is bad. REGARDLESS of the outcome for us. Government spending = taxes, and as everyone knows, this country was founded on three principles:

1.God is in heaven, satan is in hell, and we are a Christian nation.

2. I have the right to own any firearm I wish, up to and including napalm.

3. TAXATION??? This country isn't designed to have taxes. Why should I have to pay for YOUR roads and YOUR power and YOUR schools? Socialist pig.

Seriously, though, it seems to me that infrastructure spending is one of those no-brainer things that shouldn't even be a question.

Re:Without power? (2, Insightful)

psykocrime (61037) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527673)

> Seriously, though, it seems to me that infrastructure spending is one of those no-brainer things that shouldn't even be a question.

Of course it's a question; why should it be any different just because it's "infrastructure?" If there is demand for it, let the free-market provide it... nothing dictates that "infrastructure" be provided by some entity that maintains a monopoly on the use of force. Note too that "free market" includes voluntarily assembled co-operatives and communes. Communal activity for common good is one thing... forced participation in some initiative, at the point of a gun barrel, is something quite different.

Re:Without power? (2)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527495)

Peop need to start becoming independent from utilities. Drilling wells Solar Powered roofs Wind power NEED I SAY MORE

While I agree, it would be nice to do most of this, it's also not the be-all, end-all solution. Particularly in the case of the recent derecho. Where I live, we had sustained winds of 70 mph and gusts over 90. There are trees with 3 foot diameters that the trunks were snapped off. There are utility poles that were blown over (no trees on the lines). Shingles were blown off of roofs. Solar panels would probably have made for nice sails in this storm. Or been smashed by flying debris. Residential wind turbines have dubious value at best. In this area, I doubt you could generate enough power from one to justify its cost. It most likely would have made a nice projectile in this storm. Wells are only useful (or legal) depending on where you live. My town has a population around 50K. We can't drill a well here. Not that the water table could support this if everyone did. I can just see someone in NYC deciding to drill a well. Not that anyone in their right mind would drink water from a well there.

Re:Without power? (1)

emorning (2465220) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527607)

I'm not again alternative energy. But these storms would have ripped solar panels off of roofs. And you can go to youtube and see videos of wind turbines ripping themselves apart in high winds. But power plants dont get destroyed in a storm and power lines can be put in the ground.

Understaffed (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527223)

And unwilling to dip into profits on a service that costs next to nothing to produce.

Re:Understaffed (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527537)

It costing next to nothing to produce electricity is obviously false, the capital costs of building a plant and laying distribution lines are well documented.

As far as profits, this is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the US and profits are well scrutinized. The reality is that for investors to bother investing in a power plant there will need to be some profit in doing so. To maintain that heavily regulated cut any increase is costs will result in an increase in fees which will be unpopular with customers. They are not going to pay workers to sit idle until a storm comes along. They could easily capitalie small generators to run their essentials, but they don't because they prefer to gamble that such things will not be needed.

Re:Understaffed (1)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527669)

"most heavily regulated industries"

California would disagree.

Wires (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527231)

Hint: hanging wires on poles where they are subject to damage from wind and
falling trees might have something to do with it.

Re:Wires (5, Informative)

SerpentMage (13390) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527419)

I completely agree here... When I moved back to Europe in 94 they were in full swing moving power cables from above ground to below ground. Now in 2012 it is rare to see an above ground house to house power cable... With most of them, outside of the big distributor cables, underground it is also nicer looking as there are no more power lines.

Re:Wires (2)

JustOK (667959) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527453)

It's simply because Europeans are denser.

Re:Wires (1)

starless (60879) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527605)

We're pretty dense here in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.
In fact, all cities are rather dense....

Re:Wires (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527659)

I cannot agree more. I lived for a few years in the US and i was shocked by the low quality of the infrastructure for on of the richest countries in the world. My boss lost power every single winter i was there, each time for 3 to 8 days. Burying the wires was a one-off expensive but it would have been paid back within a few years avoiding power outages. I think the problem is really about short-term vision. Think long term, bury the wires and you will get cheaper, more reliable electricity.

Beacon Power (0)

F34nor (321515) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527239)

Add battery backups to all the substations. Then add battery backups to houses (either fly wheel or lead acid.) Then add electric car batteries back into the grid in an emergency. Then pony up to the bar and pay for wireless space based solar (one estimate is it would rasie the median income in the U.S. to ~130k.) Then add smart grid tech so you can relight the grid from varied sources.

Re:Beacon Power (4, Insightful)

Shatrat (855151) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527477)

Yes, let's spend trillions for that extra 1% uptime instead of just let the people who absolutely have to have emergency power buy an inexpensive generator.

Re:Beacon Power (1)

starless (60879) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527641)

A generator suitable for real emergency use for vulnerable people is not that inexpensive. For that situation you'd really need one powered by natural gas with automatic start if the main electricity supply failed. It would have to be powerful enough, in most areas, to be able to drive air conditioning, and perhaps other energy demanding systems.

Why? You have to ask why? (4, Insightful)

udoschuermann (158146) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527251)

It's because we never bother to maintain our infrastructure. We build bridges and let 'em fall down. We hang power lines off wooden poles, and never bother burying them. We sort of fix it when it breaks, but then it breaks again, but we don't really learn from it.

Re:Why? You have to ask why? (3, Funny)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527535)

In other words: cutting costs

Re:Why? You have to ask why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527539)

It's because we never bother to maintain our infrastructure. We build bridges and let 'em fall down. We hang power lines off wooden poles, and never bother burying them. We sort of fix it when it breaks, but then it breaks again, but we don't really learn from it.

The cost of putting the line back up on the pole is significantly less than trenching and putting in new lines.

Union mentality (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527621)

It's all the fault of the unions that control skilled labor in that part of the country. They impose stupid specialization rules on who it permitted to work on what tasks, do everything f*cking slow as hell, and bleed the companies dry for unreasonable salary and benefits demands instead of following the "honest day's pay for an honest day's work" model that once made this country strong.

While it's true that once upon a time, a very long time ago at the turn of the 19th-20th century, there was positive outcome from the effects of the labor unions, when the factory owners were truly abusing their employees and keeping dangerous working conditions, but that is long gone now, and the unions are nothing more than a parasite on society. They now exist solely to keep themselves fat and happy, not unlike a kind of organized crime extortion racket. Well, now the union-supporting folks of the east coast who are suffering, are getting to reap what they've sown.... that well-known wonderful quality of work output in a crisis that union workers are now so famous for.

I fully expect to get moderated down by.... union supporters.

Re:Why? You have to ask why? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527657)

Its because of things like affirmative action and PC crap, the dumb are now running things here in America. Yey for idiots.

If the problem was further north/closer to Canada (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527263)

...We would be happy to sell you some electrons!

Because of 3rd world infrastructure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527269)

the US can't be bothered to bury their cables

Because of Privatization (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527285)

Because of privatization of the industry. They're too worried about profit margins to keep the staff at levels that serve the public's needs.

Boston Gas & Electric is owned by Constellation Energy which is owned by Exelon Corporation.

Re:Because of Privatization (2)

alen (225700) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527571)

and if they were to put a new charge on your bill to pay for this improvement almost everyone would riot.

Re:Because of Privatization (4, Informative)

oh_my_080980980 (773867) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527711)

Right because they're not paying health dividends instead of paying for regular maintenance....

"...recent Public Service Commission investigation of Pepco found a years-long pattern of shirking such maintenance (curiously, at the same time that the company was paying its stockholders healthy dividends). The commission handed down a $1 million fine, its largest ever, for what it called a pattern of neglect. "


Re:Because of Privatization (2)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527739)

First, these utilities are heavily regulated as public monopoly.

Second, dilapidated infrastructure implies that it has existed for many, many years...before the privatization.

Third, Power lines and other various utilities have been hung on poles since day one. Burying all these existing lines takes tons of time and tons of money.

Pipelining (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527293)

Utility rate regulation is a system of assuring the investors of their return in return for doing something the public wants done. US Utility Rate Regulation used to be aimed at making sure that the maximum generation capacity was present with adequate return for lines and repairs etc. Under the George W Bush administration this regulation shifted towards "Pipeline" design for power sales. This stripped the local Coop or supply company of its revenue for service and maintainence. Further changes in regulation changed the position of the large generators so that they have little or no incentive to build new facilities. As such the USA is losing its grid to a very finely tuned profit machine that has no instinct for self preservation. Everything is now and nothing is tomorrow. The result is that the USA is fast sinking into a 3rd world power grid with massive failures and stunningly stupid management. The power rating system optimizes the push towards insufficient demand and planned brownouts. The 1930's regulation design caused the largest expansion and most robust utility system in the world. The 2000's are seeing this systematically dismantled in favor of "deregulation" which in this case is a farce because the regulation exists this is only a matter of how it is designed.

Oh Canada (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527297)

Would be happy to sell you some power if the grid was working!

visited to USA recently (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527299)

I am not from USA but visited there recently for business.

I was really astonished by how it seems to be a third world country in terms of infrastructure. The power lines are not buried, they are just haphazardly strung up on big poles all over so they are acceptable to being knocked by winds or damaged by lighting. But it goes much further. There is no usable public transit system, and what there is smells of urine and feels highly dangerous. Even the internet is slow and expensive compared to modern countries. It felt like visiting a country stuck in the past and unwilling to join the present.

If millions are without power after a storm, it is because they did not join with modern nations in protecting their power infrastructure.

Re:visited to USA recently (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527501)

But but but.... My dad told me the great US of A is the best country in the world !!!

Re:visited to USA recently (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527599)

You can't say all that without specifying what part of the USA you had visited. The United States, when it comes to area, is almost as big as all of Europe and, thus, creating a reliable infrastructure is a harder job than it is in Europe. You have to think in terms of scale, cost, and time/manpower required. Kneejerk responses are not what's needed. You can't criticize without first figuring out exactly what is needed and how it can be reasonably ("reasonably" being the key word here) accomplished.

Re:visited to USA recently (3, Informative)

ohnocitizen (1951674) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527749)

Quite true. While power lines are mostly above ground, public transit varies greatly. Consider the differences between Chicago, New York, San Francisco and DC when it comes to the subway (operating times, cleanliness, safety, speed, reach). Of course, things are different in smaller towns, but I was under the impression that is the case in other places as well? I'd be interested in more specifics (including an example "modern country") to compare to. The original AC's comment seems to mostly hit on above ground power lines.

Re:visited to USA recently (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527633)

...and your entire continent is bankrupt.

WWot!! fp (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527321)

Are 1ncompatible already dead. It is

Dilapidated infrastructure? (5, Interesting)

bradley13 (1118935) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527325)

Here in Europe, the news reports a very simple reason: a totally dilapidated infrastructure. Most power wires still hanging off of poles, subject to lightning, wind and falling trees. Decades-old transformers and switching stations that fail catastrophically, and sometimes cause cascading failures.

I haven't lived on the East Coast for decades - any power engineers want to comment on the truth or falsity of these reports?

Re:Dilapidated infrastructure? (4, Interesting)

Albanach (527650) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527441)

On moving to the States (East Coast) from Europe I was pretty surprised by the sheer volume of electricity cables strung in the air. For cost reasons it makes sense for the main backbone cables to be on pylons, but new build homes in cities seem to have all manner of cables strung from the nearest pole.

Not only is this unsightly, but it's a nightmare in a situation like this. Residential areas are full of trees. The lines themselves are exposed to ice accumulation in the winter and winds and lightning at other times. Power lines go down taking out small numbers of homes, but require substantial manpower to repair.

These lines should have been buried when the homes were built. Doing it retrospectively will, as the OP suggests, cost a fortune.

Re:Dilapidated infrastructure? (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527549)

There is definitely some maintenance that should be done, so I'd say fairly accurate.

Above-ground power lines on poles aren't exactly uncommon across the world, though, especially outside of major cities. Much of the UK outside downtowns is wooden poles still. Heck, even in some major cities: large parts of Tokyo are served by power lines hanging off [] poles.

Re:Dilapidated infrastructure? (5, Funny)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527609)

>> large parts of Tokyo are served by power lines hanging off [] poles

Those aren't functional, they're only there for effect when Godzilla attacks.

Re:Dilapidated infrastructure? (4, Insightful)

alen (225700) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527559)

unlike europe that has gone to war with each other every 50 years or so for the last 1000 years, the US hasn't been bombed. in some cases there has never been a reason to build new infrastructure like in the bombed out post WW2 remains of europe

Re:Dilapidated infrastructure? (5, Insightful)

MatthiasF (1853064) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527741)

Where in Europe, if I may ask?

While I was in eastern France, Italy and even Germany, I saw plenty of power lines on poles in rural areas, so I doubt this is an American problem.England, less so, but mostly because I never left London.

For instance, storms last year brought down a lot of trees in northern France that caused massive power outages as well. []

I think this is less a case of "dilapidated infrastructure" and more a case of EURO vs USA put downs. I should point out that I've never seen a news report here in the US blaming European incompetence when a storm knocks out power.

We have the good sense to blame the storm. A storm in this particular situation was way under-estimated.

Re:Dilapidated infrastructure? (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527743)

Not just in Europe.

Come to think of it: on an almost montly basis I hear news items about millions of people out of power due to fairly common severe weather. Hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes - that kind of weather. On one hand a natural disaster, on the other hand a rather frequently occuring one, and something that people can (and should) prepare for.

Virtually all of these news items occur in the US. Power outages in Europe are rare - those lasting longer than a few hours almost unheard of. The almost 30 years that I lived in Netherlands I experienced two or three serious outages, none lasting longer than a couple of hours before power was back on. The last decade in Hong Kong not a single power outage that effected me; the only serious one that I know of was limited to a nearby residential block that within two hours had an emergency power generator stationed there to provide basic power to use the lifts and so.

Other parts of Asia, which includes many developing countries, don't seem to have those problems. China has problems with power, but that are brown-outs due to power shortage. Power outages due to natural disasters are really rare there, too.

I think you're totally right when you talk about dilipadated infrastructure. For some reason the US doesn't manage to get a proper power grid going. Many cables are still above ground, even where digging is easy (e.g. Switzerland has lots of above-ground cables because digging in rock is so damn hard), so if a tree falls, it takes down cables with it, and probably one or two poles too. Lightning strikes will be common (and if that doesn't break the power supply, the surge may destroy equipment in homes).

Another common thing here on /. is talk about having a UPS for your PC. I don't, never had, don't see the need for it. Power is reliably enough. No need for emergency backup, no need for surge protection (other than a surge protected power strip). I have yet to see my PC spontanously turn off due to a sudden power cut. Yet apparently that's on the order of the day in the US.

Put Solar on the roof (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527331)

Half a dozen solar panels on the roof and a good inverter mounted will mean that you can power essentials (fridge, freezer, lights, etc) even when you're not on the grid.

Sure, it won't help if the storm cracks your panels or it stays really cloudy, but clouds often leave as quickly as they arrive and unless they're really thick, solar can work even when it is cloudy (just like you can get sun burnt when it is cloudy.)

Being green with respect to electricity has other advantages when it comes to your power supply aside from being green and seeing the monthly electricity bill drop.

Re:Put Solar on the roof (1)

bigwheel (2238516) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527523)

Only if off-grid with a local battery bank. Inverters are required to shut down when grid power fails.

Follow FPL's lead (3, Interesting)

trout007 (975317) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527337)

In Florida since we get nasty storms all of the time the power companies have full time crews that trim trees near power lines. They are going to have to do it anyway when a storm comes and it's easier to do it when the weather is nice for 3/4 of the year than when the storms come in the heat and humidity of the summer. All you have to do is call them up to take a look at a tree near their lines and they will take a look and trim it if needed.

The rest of the country might not get this weather often enough to spend the time to maintain the trees so when a freak storm comes by you not only have had lots of tree growth but it's growth that hasn't been subjected to high winds. []

Re:Follow FPL's lead (2)

muridae (966931) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527447)

Trimming sick trees works great. Except for those times when even healthy trees are knocked sideways. Or when the top of every tree is sheered off at the same height, and those pieces go flying.

Re:Follow FPL's lead (1)

trout007 (975317) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527667)

That doesn't happen too often in Florida because every tree sees strong winds every year. 50+ mph thunderstorms are typical a couple times a summer. So if a limb on a tree is weak it will break before it can get too big.

Re:Follow FPL's lead (1)

Inda (580031) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527701)

Even trimming healthy trees makes them grow stronger.

People moan in my street when all the trees are topped at 3m. They grow back each and every year. If they weren't cut, they'd be 10m tall by now, damaging foundations and the like.

Re:Follow FPL's lead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527525)

Our company in Michigan does this too. Of course we are also trying to have lots of trees in our city, so that makesit a trick to balance the two objectives. With budget cuts they have had to cut back on some trimming,but at least in the city, the city picks up a portion too.

Of course Florida was one of the pioneers in doing maintenance up front rather than just waiting for cleanup. Many power companies haven't got the memo yet.

Re:Follow FPL's lead (2)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527619)

In Austin, the local Greens have filed suit and held protests time and time again against tree trimming. They can't abide looking a a nice green canopy interrupted by corridors of cut away branches populated by various utility lines.

Frequency is troubling (5, Insightful)

Skater (41976) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527349)

As someone who was without power from Friday night to yesterday afternoon in Maryland (served by BG&E), I get that this was bad storm and outages are probably inevitable. My problem is: Why are there so many of these outages?

I moved to my current residence in 2006 and there have been at least 4 outages lasting longer than 24 hours. I think I'm missing one in that count, but I didn't want to put it down without remembering it better. But we've had one of these 24+ hour outages each of the last three years.

When I step outside during an outage, I'm greeted with the sound of generators all around me (including my own, but it's quiet enough that I hear several others over it). Why do we all have generators? Because we need them so frequently! I bet if I did a poll, half the neighbors would either have a generator or have power from someone that does. And a good portion of the rest probably have friends or family far enough that they might have power, but near enough to make staying at their place feasible. water works fine. My natural gas service works fine - we were able to take hot showers throughout the outage. My FiOS worked fine after I hooked it to the generator. All of those things have one thing in common: the lines are buried. It's sad that my internet service is more reliable than my electricity. If it's so expensive to bury wires, how come Verizon just did it a couple years ago when they installed FiOS?

BG&E did a "reliability improvement plan" in our city a year or two ago, moving some main wires underground. It seems to have cut down on the shorter power outages, but no such luck for the longer outages. We're tired of it. My wife and I are going to write BG&E a nice letter that basically asks "WTF?" I plan to CC the city council and local papers as well.

Re:Frequency is troubling (4, Interesting)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527433)

Buried lines isn't an automatic solution. I lost DSL/phone after a major rainstorm flooded the underground pipes. The power stayed on because it was above the water.

For comparison... (3, Informative)

bradley13 (1118935) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527475)

For comparison, our computers have reset unexpectedly twice (iirc) in the past 12 years. I assume that both times it was due to a short power-blip. No other outages that I recall. I think occasionally about buying a UPS, but I'm not sure the UPS wouldn't actually decrease the reliability.

The difference is exactly what you expect: all power wires here are buried. Heck, our house was built in 1934, and the wires were buried. Why does the US still string them up on poles, almost a century later? Weird...

Re:Frequency is troubling (5, Interesting)

muridae (966931) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527503)

The breaks in water mains, the boil water notices, and the sewage treatment plant leaking waste into rivers suggests that even underground utilities were effected in this storm.

All these utilities should be underground... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527355)

problem solved.

Out of Country Too! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527365)

Several hundred electrical workers from Ontario are also helping out.

Because of the Socialist Monopoly on Power (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527379)

Forcing tree trimming won't solve the problem. There is no impedous for the companies to get better and never will be so long as they have a monopoly. Only competition can improve the energy sector, make it more clean, make it more efficient, and make it more reliable.

But of course the solution put forth is to steal more property rights. When will the stupid people recognize cause and effect?

Derecho is what happens (1)

gtrubetskoy (734033) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527385)

when you add an extra leap second...

Burying the lines (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527397)

Something y'all should keep in mind (and into Day 5 without power) is that burying the lines isn't a silver bullet. There's lots of stuff that can go wrong with underground wires, and it doubles, triples, quadruples the time, effort, and expense to repair an underground fault. With the lines overhead, access to the grid is quick and cheap, and many times, the fault is visible.

Re:Burying the lines (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527615)

The problem is not finding and fixing a single fault, it is easy for overhead and underground wires. Problems are disasters which produce so many faults that the network falls apart. For overhead the disaster is storms, for underground earthquakes are the problem. How often do you have storms in the northeast and how often earthquakes?

Re:Burying the lines (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527689)


More like 10 times. I know what I speak of... working in the general greater telecom field for approaching two decades, both sides of the biz, multiple companies.

Aerial fiber vs buried fiber is, on the very long run, across 3 different companies, is around 10:1 ratio of time for MTTR.

Something no one on /. wants to talk about in the bash-fest is that if a tree is ripped out of the ground, it'll destroy buried lines just as well as it'll destroy aerial lines. It'll just take 10 times longer to fix the ripped up buried lines. As a betting man I'd place money that on average people with buried lines are/will suffer worse service on average than aerial.

Buried is expensive; Simplistic way to "fix" things is to throw money. Burial seems the obvious way to waste the money. Probably not gonna help.

What no one wants to admit is basically its was a class-1 hurricane-over-land and Florida knows exactly how to clean up after those every year and has decades of experience doing it, but Ohio has no freaking idea.

Just think about anecdote time. When I was a kid a tipped over tree knocked the line off our house after a major storm. One lineman with a ladder and replacement fuses and a spool of cable and some splices fixed it in, no kidding, less than 15 minutes. If that was underground and the overturned tree ripped that up, well, that would have taken three guys with shovels and a ditchwitch and maybe a front end loader ... maybe a couple days labor for a couple linemen?

The infrastructure is significantly behind (3, Informative)

dslmodem (733085) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527401)

When I first came to US, I was shocked to see those wood utility poles. It is so ancient. There are many excuses for keeping those. People need to go to some developing countries, particularly BRIC, to take a look at their infrastructures. Where is the $$ for change?

Re:The infrastructure is significantly behind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527505)

Where is the $$ for change?

Probably in the purses of rich who pay nearly no taxes?

Or in cases of privatized infrastructure in the purses of the shareholders

Re:The infrastructure is significantly behind (2, Insightful)

am 2k (217885) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527583)

Where is the $$ for change?

Harvested by the already rich?

Re:The infrastructure is significantly behind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527663)

Being spent on keeping our grandparents alive for a few more years. And a new carrier battle groups.

Re:The infrastructure is significantly behind (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527721)

That's because our infrastructure was mostly built out in the 30s and 40s, partly as a federal program to provide jobs (REA, WPA) after the Depression. The materials used (steel and oil for transformers, for instance) have 100 year lifetimes, so it's not unreasonable to keep them in service, except when occasional failures occur, or for efficiency reasons (changing transformers to reduce losses). Wood is a reliable, inexpensive, long lived building material, especially when you have BIG forests with BIG trees to make the poles from. I wouldn't recommend wooden poles for Egypt, for instance. But there are plenty of millenia old wooden structures around doing just fine.

Europe has a fairly new infrastructure for a simple reason: most of it was bombed into oblivion in the 40s, and they spent the 50s and 60s rebuilding it. There is also a significant topological difference in power distribution in EU compared to the US. In the US, there are much larger areas with medium population density, whereas in EU, there are clumps of high density, surrounded by fields. (and there's plenty of millions of ha with nobody in the US, as well). EU distribution tends to have a lot of consumers hanging off one transformers, while in the US, it's typically less than 8. EU uses a lot of Gas Insulated gear: reduced fire hazard from insulating oil in urban environments.

BRIC is even newer: back in the 30s and 40s, they were using oil lamps and didn't even have electric power utilities, per se, at least on a nationwide grid. There's a reason why all the High Voltage Engineering textbooks are written by Brazilians, Indians and Egyptians.. they were building that stuff for the first time back in the 60s, so they got good hands on experience. Big hydroelectric installations like Aswan High Dam on the NIle and Itaipu on the Iguazu prompted the development of large electrical system infrastructures, and the rural electrification that came with it. China's rural areas are still electrifying

I'll bet that if you go to rural Brazil or China 40 years from now, it will look just like rural US today.

the reason they have reliability problems in the US today can be laid at the feet of one thing: "deregulation". When you start to run a utility as a business, and don't have any significant direct cost for failure, then your optimum strategy is to spend just enough to keep the system running at an acceptable failure rate. Whether you do maintenance spread out over years, or all at once in response to a disaster is sort of immaterial.. and it's cheaper to wait for the disaster, because that shifts the costs later (time value of money, etc.). The utility doesn't normally bear the costs of the failure's impact on customers.

Compare the reliability of wireline phone service (heavily regulated, particularly because of 911) to the reliability of cable TV (essentially unregulated). In a disaster, even if the power is off, you have a reasonable expectation that if you pick up the phone, you get a dial tone. (and you can call the power company to ask when power will be restored) You have no such expectation if you have a cell phone, or VoIP provisioned through "the cloud", or Cable modem.

As a famous person (I think it was Scholes) once said: one should not consider an unlikely outcome as being impossible. What modern deregulated businesses do is optimize for the 95% occurrences..

Trim the fucking trees (5, Informative)

TorrentFox (1046862) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527403)

I sat in on a town hall meeting where JCP&L fumbled majorly in explaining themselves after taking a week or more to restore power in northern NJ. They gave all manner of excuses, and the meeting attendees pointed out endless examples of dead branches hanging over wires. Their policy? Then don't touch the branch unless the branch is *hanging* on the wire. How's that for foresight? The moment a strong wind kicks up, they lose power. They're so fucking cheap that they fired all their linemen, and now out-of-state emergency support has become the ONLY support.

Shame on them.

Privatization Disadvantage (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527409)

Vote for Romney and privatize even more infrastructure and eventually Apple/Google/etc can afford high tech uptime, and the rest of US infrastructure (certainly rural area, without COOPs) will have India-like outages . . . (quote me in 5 years, and you won't laugh about this one anymore)

Solar Power (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527421)

Because people don't have a few solar panels on their roofs?

It would only take 4 solar panels to run the lights, TV and fridge in an energy efficient home. It won't run the AC though. The TV crews should find some people with solar panels on their home and show how they are surviving this week.

People used to live with no AC, but there wasn't a blanket of CO2 and loads of asphalt/concrete keeping the hot air close to the ground back then.

I went to Australia and there are lots of homes with a few solar panels on them down there. In Vegas, they are much more rare. In the Midwest, even more so. Make your own power people and you don't need to worry about the infrastructure and grid.

Big deal (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527427)

Nature happens. You guys are knee'jerk reacting. Next story.

Crappy NE grid (0)

zwede (1478355) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527429)

I can't help but wonder why the grid is so crappy up there in the northeast. 80 mph winds... big whoop. We had that a few weeks ago down here (North Texas). Several trees down in my neighbourhood, many damaged roofs. But power never went out. Didn't even flicker. All power lines here are buried except high voltage. Why can we do it when the northeast can't?

Re:Crappy NE grid (2)

jonnythan (79727) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527579)

The NE neighborhoods are so old they predate power lines. Tearing up all the streets and sidewalks in the entire northeastern US would have cost ridiculous amounts of money.

Please (2)

TraumaFox (1667643) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527435)

My home state of CT had two storms that took out power to most of the state for over a week just last year. Get on our level.

On a serious note, it's kind of sad to see that even after our horrendous storms and massive consumer backlash against CL&P's near-monopoly, there are still power companies out there acting like it could never happen to them, not having a contingency plan for the worst case scenario.

Unions and Liability? (0)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527463)

>> After Recent US Storms, Why Are Millions Still Without Power?

In part it's because the idea of low skill laborers to supplement a highly trained core is something that unions generally oppose. (Normally, unions benefit from busy times by getting higher wages during overtime. Management would also be tempted to use a supplemental, lower-wage work pool more often than higher-paid workers earning overtime if giving the choice.)

However, even if local authorities and utilities could mobilize the great masses of unemployed in our ongoing recession, they would likely not want to for fear of liability claims from workers getting hurt cleaning debris, cutting tree limbs or the like. In other words, even though they may be paying a union member 2x his normal wage rate to clear trees, once you factor in legal expenses, it might still be cheaper than hiring someone desperate for a job at $8/hr.

early 20th century infrastructure (2)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527497)

I lose electrical power at least once a year. Sometimes it's just a few blocks, sometimes it's a quarter of the city. It usually happens during thunder storms, but once in a while it happens for no apparent reason. It usually takes several hours for it to be restored. This is in a city of 200,000 in the Midwest. Several decades ago, this was acceptable; electricity was a convenience that gave us light and maybe ran some of our home appliances. But today it is essential to our daily lives; too many things now require electricity to work. And yet... we're still using the same basic infrastructure that my grandparents got their electricity from during the Great Depression.

why are so much wires above ground? (4, Interesting)

alen (225700) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527499)

it's like the wal mart attitude of just buy the cheapest no matter what the hidden costs are of buying more products to make up for the crappy cheapest product in the first place

same here. dollar wise for the initial costs its cheaper to put up overhead wires. and the repair costs are probably low enough that digging holes is always too expensive.

and the fact that when you get to the republican areas everyone is always against higher taxes so they make due with crappy infrastructure

Decentralize! (2)

zerosomething (1353609) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527515)

Remove regulatory barriers to small private, personal and community power generation systems and solve this problem!

Simple Answer (1, Interesting)

American AC in Paris (230456) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527521)

Of course the utility companies can take steps between storms to upgrade outdated equipment and trim growth from around power lines.

The trouble is, we don't want to spend the considerable sums of public money it'd take to make that happen.

This should come as no surprise to anyone. Our utilities are a hybrid of private enterprise and public good. Since today there is no greater fundamental evil in the United States than the public sector and maintenance is a generally unprofitable annoyance for businesses, don't expect any more expenditure on energy infrastructure improvements than is absolutely necessary.

Power (0)

Bombcar (16057) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527527)

Removing moderation.

The US electric grid has evolved (2)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527533)

The US electric grid is a product of history much more than planning with bits tacked on or merged as short-term goals dictated without much in the way of long-term planning. (There are actually three main US grids, one for the East, one for the West and one for Texas). Maggie Koerth-Baker wrote an excellent book, "Beforee the Lights Go Out," which is about the grid and related issues that discusses this and how it creates a lot of these problems and what we can do about it. I highly recommend it.

15 minutes (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527541)

We were without power for three days. What has struck me most is that the damage happened in 15 minutes while a hurricane blows for six or eight hours. Also, there was very little rain with this storm system. At the stables is was hard to water the horses with the well pump out. The stream was also dry. Lucky we'd filled all the buckets in the barn a week before.

Third world! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527547)

Because the USA are just another third world country!

Air conditioning? Open a window. (1)

TheMathemagician (2515102) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527555)

Why are Americans so obsessed with air conditioning? Massive power failure you'd think there'd be more important priorities. Anyway you have slave labour in the form of prison chain-gangs so get them to bury the power cables.

Re:Air conditioning? Open a window. (3, Informative)

dkf (304284) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527755)

Why are Americans so obsessed with air conditioning?

Because their summer climate is crap. When you've got temperatures around 100F and humidity over 90%, you become very keen on air conditioning.

You can not imagine how much I enjoy this. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527561)

Go ahead, mod me down. I didn’t write this for you to read. I wrote it to enjoy how much I enjoy seeing you going down. LOL
Have fun in the 3rd world, Ameritards!
Mass-murdered for long enough. Been drones and serfs for long enough! Starvation time, bitches!

Because maintaining power grids is hard. (3, Insightful) (1238654) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527563)

Seriously. Look at a map for any densely populated urban area, and consider the scale and complexity any utility provider must face. The problem is enormous and the adverse conditions affecting the utility are highly varied. Also consider that it makes no sense for these utility providers to retain standing armies of workers and equipment to react to rare events.

People need to grow up, and understand that sometimes they will be left without the conveniences of modern life. It is incumbent upon each of us to be prepared for these difficult times when we might have to go a full 48 hours without being able to watch The Bachelorette.

Lack of a free Market (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527603)

In most municipalities there 1 or 2 government granted monopolies who serve the area with power. There is no incentive for those companies to provide more reliable service because there is no competition.

good news! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527639)

notenough power? now they have a reason to build more nuclear reactors, like in japan!

In the USA, the power grid is Wal-Marted (1, Insightful)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527647)

Capitalism enforces ever rising levels of mediocrity. Like what's in Wal-Mart, every product or service is made to be *just* reliable enough to sell and beat the competition, if there is any. The power grid is *just* good enough so that no company will spend money to fix it. As for the actual physical grid itself, there's no significant competition.Thinking ahead to emergencies doesn't figure into this, and don't even start to discuss the national interest if it compromises profit somewhere. EMP anyone?


Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40527675)

we got moar bettar elextricitah than iraq do so let freedom ring dood

Infrastructure Cheapskates (2)

pesho (843750) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527683)

Because quick profits and millisecond gains are the king in US. The utilities are trying to save both on infrastructure and maintenance. Having the power lines been buried, like in pretty much every first world country, they would have had a lot less problems from a little wind. I am pretty sure that the next post would be how this is too expensive because of the 'low' population density and the 'rural' populations and I call this complete bollocks. The utility poles are as prevalent in urban areas as they are out in the country. So, you saved on infrastructure and this is probably OK, but then you need to maintain it. And this means keeping the trees away from the poles, not overloading the wooden poles to the point where a little wind will snap them and replacing them before they rot completely away. Now this makes the cheap infrastructure a lot more expensive, unless you skip on the maintenance, which is what most utilities cheerfully do. This is by no means the only utilities fault. Any investment cost will need to be passed to the consumers and they will have none of it.

Taxes and other reasons (1)

muridae (966931) | more than 2 years ago | (#40527727)

It is a major expense to disaster proof all utilities, and doing so in a way that would prevent damage against 100-year high winds costs a ton. Would you pay double the taxes on electricity for 10 years to protect against something that statistically shouldn't happen again in your life time?

Combine that with insane amounts of damage. My electricity comes through underground wires in one direction, and that's why I still had power sunday. Sunday night, though, the wind took out more substations, and snaped a live line on the other side of the property. And with that, power was gone. It wasn't just the snapped line, but the trees that pulled up underground cables when they fell; it isn't just a single line broken, but 10s of breaks just to restore power to a few people. And the areas hit aren't all dense urban areas, but at least here it is lots of power lost in rural farms.

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