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Feedback on My Blog Post on Electrical Power Impacts from Ida

NPR has grid solutions. I’ve got the “final” solution to the mess we are in.

It is unfortunate, but the platform I blog on does not allow for direct comments to be posted. However, I sometimes do get readers who write me separately at my email address.

I got one such reply below to this blog post, “Hurricane Ida — Getting the Power Back On,” which highlighted the work by the mutual aid system for electrical utilities for moving utility crews and trucks from around the nation to help in Louisiana.

“I don’t think EMA managers are well served by your comments. ‘The situation there in Louisiana looks like a catastrophic failure of the power grid. Power plants, large transmission towers and the broader distribution system that brings power to individual homes have all been laid waste.’

“Suggest solutions please, don’t just tell us the obvious. How would you harden the distribution system against 150 MPH wind gusts? At what cost? Who will pay? Should the utility pay, via increased power bills to the citizens; should the state government pay via increased state taxes; should the federal government pay so that farmers in Kansas are paying for Louisiana’s storm problems, which will never be seen in Kansas?

“Burying electrical power lines is not the answer: it is extremely costly, and they can be accidentally dug up, or severed by earthquakes. Overhead high voltage distribution is the norm all over the world. There are no easy solutions or they would have been implemented years ago.

“Consumers complain all the time about electricity rate increases, transmission line towers anywhere near their homes, they object to nuclear energy and fossil fuel energy, but they are not willing to have a public debate about what alternatives are best for replacement. Our electrical grid infrastructure has not seen significant investment in decades because of these and other reasons.

“Not mentioned is the fact that the grid is also very vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks because of the reliance on poorly implemented alarm and control systems. This is slowly being fixed, but meanwhile China, Russia, and others have been constantly probing our networks, and likely embedding trapdoors or other ways to shut the grid down.

“I was present right after Katrina to assist with communications, and as a result of that experience had drafted into the NFPA 1221 standard (soon to be 1225), which defines public safety communications, the requirement to have the ability to connect a roll-up generator via an outlet and plug. This allows these roll-up generators to supplement or replace emergency generators at communications sites, which may fail to start or require servicing during extended outages.

“Please in future suggest improvements.
Thank you,
John Facella, P.E.”

In emergency management terms, he was accusing me of “admiring the problem” instead of suggesting solutions.

As for direct “electrical grid solutions,” NPR had a segment recently that proposed plenty of solutions to make the electrical grid more resilient: “Power Grids Feel The Pressure Of Intense Storms Driven By Climate Change.”

I’ll add my 2 cents, but on a different and larger scale. With climate change, it is not so much about making all our systems more resilient or protected, but changing the way we live.

We need to “sound the retreat” from the water’s edge. The barrier island that took the direct hit in Louisiana should not get any government assistance, other than what is appropriate to relocate. That island location must be abandoned and it will eventually be totally reclaimed by the sea.

The billions of dollars spent to protect portions of New Orleans that are below sea level was a big mistake. We will need to prioritize what we will protect. Manhattan in New York City makes sense — individual homes on or near the ocean shore need to go the way of the Dodo bird.

If you want to live in the forest, go ahead, but don’t expect that government is going to bail you out when everything burns. No, we will not subsidize your home fire insurance because you can’t get commercial insurance that is affordable — because the insurance carriers are becoming very aware of the risks they are incurring by insuring your property.

“Location, location, location” is the word of the day. Retreat from the water’s edge, be it the ocean, river or stream. Want a cliffside view? Great, but you assume the risk, not your fellow citizens.

Mandatory building codes that are enforced would help — not every place in the U.S. has them.

None of the above that I suggest is anywhere near possible in today’s environment where government handouts post-disaster are expected. The only thing that will change is when our national budget and economy are near collapse and elected officials are faced with the reality that government cannot be Uncle Sugar any more. Until then, we’ll keep building new homes, businesses, and public infrastructure that puts all of these in harm’s way at some point in the future. For now it is great for business — until finally it isn’t.

Basically, we are setting ourselves up for future failure in order to get tax revenue today. Local elected officials, developers, builders and building trade associations, along with homeowners, are the ones digging us into this hole.

Eventually the piper will be paid, but please, not on my watch!
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.
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