Pundits and historians are still dissecting President Barack Obama's Inaugural address, but there were two words in the speech that caught our attention - electric grids.
There were certainly grander themes in the speech, but the brief reference to building electric grids... that feed our commerce and bind us together struck a chord simply because it's a rarity to hear a politician address the needs in our electric infrastructure.
The topic briefly had the nation's attention in August of 2003 when the nation witnessed the worst blackout in U.S. history in the northeast. The outage left approximately 50 million people in eight states and Ontario without electricity. It was responsible for about $6 billion in business losses. The culprit for that outage, according to ABC News report, was determined to be human error, equipment failure and inadequate monitoring.
While the Energy Policy Act of 2005 improved federal oversight to see that major transmission lines and generation plants are more reliable, the U.S. is still going to be hard-pressed to make sure our capacity to produce electricity keeps up with our insatiable demand.
The improvement and oversight of our nation's electric grid should be a major priority of the federal government. Few catastrophes could cripple the country as fast as a widespread, sustained power outage. Even if our electric grid is improved the key components of that system are legitimate terrorism targets in today's dangerous world.
President Obama should be commended for focusing attention, no matter how briefly, on a subject that should receive much more attention. Congress is expected to authorize a massive economic stimulus plan addressing pressing infrastructure needs such as roads and bridges. Let's hope his mention of electric grids means that much-needed improvements to that system will also be a part of the package.
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