Weather extremes test nation’s power grid

Monday, August 27, 2012
By Paul Martin
Aug 27, 2012

Extreme weather is putting America’s power grid to the test, with a yearlong run of violent storms and record heat battering a system built for fairer skies.

As Ohio and the eastern United States struggle to recover from yet another weather shock, energy officials are acknowledging climate change as a force that finally has to be reckoned with — even as concern grows about other threats that can set off catastrophic blackouts.

Winter storms, chains of heat waves and late June’s derecho — a thunderstorm with straight-line winds that snapped electrical transmission towers and broughtdown power poles — have forced the climate change issue and electric supply vulnerability to the top of an already-daunting list of blackout triggers. Those threats range from computer-hacking cyberterrorists to solar flares, utility mistakes and plain bad luck.

Regulators in the U.S. hope to avoid the kind of cascading grid failure that hit India in late July, leaving about 600 million people without power. Miners were trapped underground. Trains shut down. Unimaginable traffic snarls popped up across the country. And India’s image as a rising economic power was cast in darkness.

A major blackout in hyper-wired America also would have crippling consequences, with some experts predicting economic losses up to $180 billion.

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