Hank Investigates: Power Problems
In the search for what went wrong here are the words you'll be hearing over and over, "investment in the infrastructure." What that means is someone has got to pay for upgrading the physical systems used to provide power, because experts, who we found, have warned about this for years, say those systems are bordering on obsolete.
Miles of transmission lines, substations and hundreds of control rooms operated nationwide by different companies but all interlocked to provide power. Some call the power grid the biggest man-made machine that ever existed.
Larry Makovich, PhD. Cambridge Energy Res.
"This is a critical infrastructure to the U.S. economy."
But this report from Cambridge Energy Research Associates predicts because grid maintenance is so bad, itís a machine that is destined to break down.
"So what we've had is a chronic under investment for the past couple of years and what may be a troubling breakdown in the operation management of this system in real time."
For energy watchers, this is nothing new. We found three years ago the governmentís own study of the 99 power outages called the grid reliability "faltering", with massive power use meeting outmoded equipment.
David Owens, Electric Industry Lobbyist
"It was designed much like a two lane road or close to a highway, but not like a superhighway. We are now asking the system to operate like a superhighway."
And back after the massive blackout of 1965, an industry-sponsored group, the North American Electric Reliability Council, was set up to insure power the power grid works without interruption.
Now in an international phone hookup from New Jersey, its president says he's embarrassed by the blackout. .
Michehl Gent, President, North American Electric Reliability Council
"My job is to see this doesnít happen and you can say I failed in my job thatís why Iím upset."
Problem is that we found these industry rules governing power company operations are only voluntary.
"Thereís two possibilities, either the rules we have are inadequate or someone wasn't following the rules, we donít know which."
Whatís more, with deregulation, private companies can make decisions on whatís best for them, not whatís best for the overall system. And now even as the lights return, without changes in the system, all agree, the darkness could certainly fall again.
Rob Sargent, Sr. Energy Policy Analyst
"Itís not clear to me that the problem is we don't have enough power, the problem is we're not using it smart enough."
Energy legislation now on Capitol Hill, which does include upgrades in the transmission and distribution systems, wasn't getting much attention. With experts now calling for congressional hearings, itís clear, that's going to change.