Out of Juice

I don’t know if everyone who lost power in last week’s storms has had power restored, but many people were cut off from electricity for seven or eight days, at least. David Frum wrote last week,

While you enjoy your air conditioning, you might want to take a minute to consider: Why do Americans tolerate such outages?

Outages are not inevitable. The German power grid has outages at an average rate of 21 minutes per year.

The winds may howl. The trees may fall. But in Germany, the lights stay on.

I’m no expert on how Germany handles its power grid, but from what I could sniff out online the government regulates it all pretty tightly.

Mark Steyn is in Scotland bemoaning America’s dysfunctional utility companies but blaming government, not the companies, for the outages.

America is seizing up before our eyes, and the action necessary to reverse the sclerosis is stymied at every turn by rapacious unions, government micro-regulators, dependency-spreading social engineers, and crony capitalists who know how to weave their way through the bureaucracy.

But I’d be willing to bet that the UK and Germany and most of Europe regulates its energy infrastructure a lot more than the U.S. does. I know that Germany has much bigger and stronger unions. Somehow that never registers in a rightie brain. It also doesn’t register that “free markets” might be the problem, not the solution. Steyn writes,

America’s dysfunctional utility companies have a zillion explanations for this, but years ago I rode through the outskirts of D.C. with a Dutch tourist who marveled at the men digging up the sidewalk in densely populated neighborhoods to bury the new cable-TV wires while the sagging electric lines overhead continued to string their way from pole to pole dodging tree branches across town.

Steyn, genius, explain why Comcast would bother to bury Pepco electric company’s cable? Maybe in The Netherlands the government steps in and regulates that all the cables are buried together, but not here.

Private utility companies say they don’t bury cable because it’s too expensive, btw.

See also the Angry Black Lady.

16 thoughts on “Out of Juice

  1. From what I understand the power grids are a mess and private utility companies don’t want to invest money in improving that either. But boy those bills sure get bigger. And the public tolerates being without power for a week during a heatwave, but the same group is all kinds of pissy if they are the last ones to get “4 G” internet service on their phones and would go into freak out mode within 24 hours if told they would have no cell phone for a week.

  2. Irish visitors here were amazed at the beauty spoiled by overhead wires. They could not believe it was allowed.

  3. Back in the mid-90’s when I chaperoned a student trip to Moscow, Russia with the college I was adjunct teaching at, we stayed in Lumumba University, which was built in the early 1960’s – which is to say, the building was charmless, but fairly efficient. It was constructed in typical Soviet style – just not as high as their apartment complexes:

    It was early January of a very mild winter. When I got to my dorm room, the first thing I noticed was the heat. The steam heating unit had that room at about 90 degrees, so I opened the window – which caused the heating unit to kick into a higher gear – l Iooked for a thermostat in the room, but there wasn’t any.
    I hate heat!
    So I went back down to the school administration office to ask them what to do?
    They said there was nothing anyone could do. When I asked why, the head of the school said something to the effect of, “Well, we have a little more now, and we had so very little for decades. But the two things the old Soviet government insisted on, was that no building was ever cold, and that any cities subways and buses ran efficiently. We might not have had much food, or luxury items, the water may not always run or taste very good, and the elevators are a crapshoot at best, but the two things the government DIDN’T want, was the people bitching about how cold they were indoors, and having any more excuses for being late for work. I’m afraid it’ll stay warm in there, my American friend. It was engineered to do so – and you’ll see that, for all of the many faults of the system, the engineering required of you to stay alive or out of a gulag, isn’t one of them. You’ll learn deal with it. And if it were colder out this winter, you’d appreciate that warm room all the more.”

    There had to be some solution.
    Remember – I HATE HEAT!!! I can’t sleep in it. And even just sitting in it, I schvitz like a lawn sprinkler.

    So I gave it some thought, and, like a typical American schmuck, figured I could spend my way to a solution – “Hey,” I figured, “I could go to downtown Moscow and buy a fan!”
    Yeah, good luck with that, chump – this ain’t NYC!
    Try going to GUM, the beautiful downtown department store (and the ONLY one, then), just very recently privatized, and look for a fan in recently de-Sovietized Russia in January. Some people in the stores even laughed at the American when I asked where I could buy a fan? “IN JANUARY? HA!!! Son, you can’t even find them in the summers, let alone the middle of winter!” Which surprised me, because my reading of history had told me that in the extinct Soviet system, winter was exactly when one might expect to see fans available. But here were none to be found, for love or money, so I sat and steamed in my room every night. I found that, in heat, the more vodka you drank, the sweatier you were, but you could sleep like a wet rock.

    So, what’s the point of this long-ass story?
    Well, what I learned from that experience was that every government has its priorities.
    And seven years after the wall came down, the required, nay, highly-prioritized, parts of the old Soviet system still chugged along just fine:
    The subways and buses in Moscow ran like clockwork – one of the most efficient things I’d ever seen – and far better than my beloved NY City. And the room stayed like a sauna, despite my best efforts to cool it off.

    We Americans have learned in recent years, having been taught by Conservatism, to have ever lower and lower expectations of government.
    And, as we’re constantly being told to expect ‘the free markets to provide,’ we’d better learn to have NO expectations.

    NO expectations from government, folks
    THAT’S Conservatism in its purest form.

    We’re lucky the Soviets never figured that out. They could have directed ALL of their money and efforts on the military – all to protect a system of government that did nothing for its people.
    America has morphed into the old Soviet Union that Conservatives once dreaded – except now, the trains and buses, and the roads and rails they ride on, are falling apart, and the AC doesn’t work in the summer because the electrical system’s about as sturdy as cotton candy in a hot summer rain.


    Hell, I’d hate to see this country if we’d lost…

    So, let’s give our thanks to our victorious banana’s Republicans, and ‘Cannibal Capitalism” Conservatives!
    Even the Godless Communists you feared figured they owed their people a few things.
    Shows how little they knew, huh?

  4. Back in the summer of 2004, my little town of Kissimmee was hit by three hurricanes, the first being “Charlie”, which spun off a bunch of minor tornados. The power lines are buried in my neighborhood, but the feeder lines are not. This was part of the problem, since the road into my neighborhood was lined with 100+year old oak trees which did not survive the storms. Even the buried lines were damaged, because of the many old oaks inside the neighborhood that toppled over due to the saturated soil and high winds.There is one particularly large beautiful victorian style home up the street that looked like a haunted house due to all the downed trees, spanish moss litter, and exposed, previously buried power lines. It was quite a mess, and we had no power for 12 days.
    The storm knocked over so many trees that FEMA was literally handing out chainsaws and generators to anyone who wanted one. Because of the business I was in at the time, I had several of each, so was kinda prepared. It took me 3 days to cut a path out of my property, mostly due to the extreme heat and humidity, plus every stinging or biting insect on the planet seemed to be concentrated in our neighborhood.
    Then there was the trash removal problem,I had a hugh pile of cut up tree limbs, shingles, and assorted aluminum scrap, but no way to get it hauled off;I decided to go to lakeland(about an hr. from here) to rent a wood chipper;every chipper in the greater Orlando area had been rented with an open end agreement.
    After the storms, the old timber utility poles were replaced with concrete poles, which of course do not decay at groundline like timber poles, that was a major step. There was also an inspection plan implemented, and now tree trimming crews regularly prune back tree growth. A little maintenance goes a long way, and nobody bitches about union linemen when they’re working on getting the power back on. There was a virtual army of linemen from all across the US down here working 16 hr days, many sleeping in their trucks.

  5. And here are our “beloved” Galtian Overlords and their corporations spending money like drunken lottery winners on the political process and elections, making sure that things either stay the same, or get worse, for the people of this country:


    Hey, now that we’ve been assured that money is the same as free speech, these folks can prioritize who they speak to, and don’t even have to talk a good game to the rest of us.

    All for fun, and especially – PROFIT!!!

    In America now, the more money, the freer the speech.
    So, sit down, and STFU peons – “The Man” is speaking!
    And “The Man’s” free speech will cost the rest of us dearly – probably your freedom:
    To work.
    To have shelter.
    To eat.
    To drink clean water.
    To get power.
    To eat.
    To provide.

  6. maha,
    Hear anything from Joan?

    I haven’t seen her here in awhile. Maybe she’s having power problems where she lives.
    Anyone know?
    Maybe I didn’t notice her posting – though I look forward to her comments as much as any of the others who are regulars here.

    • I have heard from Joan. She is recovering from hip replacement surgery and expects to be back up to speed soon, so send good vibes for her speedy recovery.

  7. WILL DO!

    And thanks for finding that out, maha – I always worry when I don’t see some of the familiar names here.

  8. Hey gang, thanks for worrying about me! Things are going well and I’m sure glad I had the surgery. I have electricity and a/c, and one more restful week off work. I’ll try to check in now and again.

  9. When I was a paralegal, I worked in the public utilities group of the law firm. I worked mainly on rate cases. (This was 1988 to 1992, before the deregulation trend really took hold.) One of my assignments was to study UK documents related to the handling of problem situations and compare the UK procedures to those of the NYS power something-or-other (I forget the exact name). I was quite impressed by what I saw in the English documents. Unfortunately, as I found out later, my law firm was helping to privatize English utilities. The situation is probably very different now.

  10. Lest we forget – rural America has electricity thanks to a New Deal program administered by the Rural Electrification Administration.

  11. JOAN!!!

    Welcome back!
    Glad the operation was a success – I suspect I need a hip replacement as well.

    Now, get some R&R!

  12. Bill B. – it is amazing, amazingly ugly that is. Two years ago my community elected to put our wires under ground. Prior to doing that we lost electric service about twice a month and cable service about four times a month. Since going under ground, no outages.

    Of course it cost each household $23,000 which we were fortunately allowed to pay off as part of our yearly property tax bill. (I’m sure that Southern California Edison, our server and the company that did the work is making a bundle.)

    The question of course, and you alluded to it, is why weren’t they put under ground in the first place.

  13. Oh my God! Germans average only 21 minutes a year? What’s their secret and why aren’t they telling? France offered to help California with bullet train technology. After 9-11 the country with the best airline screening stats (Israel) offered to help and DHS flalty refused.

    Does this mean we’re not #1 anymore except at the Olympics because people paint themselves up and chant it?

    Mr. Boehner, tear down this bubble that so many are trapped in…impervious to reality.

  14. joanr16..Wishing you a speedy recovery. Stay off the roller skates for at least 6 months..and you’ll be fine.

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