Blackouts Hit Several Major Cities

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Unsettling news: According to TV and radio reports, there are power outages all over the Northeast—all five boroughs of New York City, Albany, Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto. A Con Edison plant in New York is apparently on fire, though no one's sure how that relates to the problem. The White House just said it knows nothing about causes.

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  1. So which moslem country do we bomb for this one?

  2. Matt, when it comes to “securing domestic tranquility” ensuring our safety, and protecting the citizens of these United Sates, please don’t look to The White House for causes — in knee-jerk fashion.

    This is 2003. The U.S. Constitution, in whose laws we were supposed to have the bedrock foundation of proper governmental behavior, has long since been ignored.

    The only recourse we have now is to look to private individuals, private companies, private institutions, and the private efforts of geeks and engineers to secure our safety.

    The inept and wasteful “governing” entities have become as useless as tits on a bore hog.

  3. I think he knows that.

  4. Minuteman — Just writing down what I hear from the radio, like a good typist. Speaking of which, there’s talk now that the trouble is located on the Niagara power grid, creating “cascading” blackouts. Officials in New York are downplaying possible terrorism. It should also be noted that the eastern seaboard has suffered through blackouts this week, and that there was a small fire at a Miami substation earlier today.

  5. Well, parts of Central Joisey have gone dark. I don’t mind weapons of mass destruction, but messing with my air conditioning means I’m going to have to run an oil patch down each gun barrel! Damn, I’ll be busy all night!

  6. Weapons of mass inconvenience.

  7. See Iraqis? We can’t keep the power on here either!

  8. So can anyone direct me to a site that explains why Big Power is so tricky? Seems like this happens a lot. I know when you have massive power grids sharing the juice it gets weird, but why is that?

  9. I blame whitey.

  10. Officials keep saying “it’s not terrorism, it’s not terrorism.” How they have been able to determine that conclusively within 90 minutes is beyond me. Most likely, as in the El Al shooting in L.A., they are saying what they think we need to hear, to avoid panic. I for one do not enjoy that type of condescension, and think we are best armed with as much real information as possible, even if that would amount to “we don’t know what the hell is going on, and have ruled out nothing.”

  11. My favorite quote is from CNN, which quoted a FEMA official saying “We have no absolutely idea what this is.” That is precisely the answer people DON’T want to hear. If you’re a FEMA or DHS bureaucrat and you don’t know jack, just stick with the tried and true line: “There appears to be no link to terrorism.”

  12. I agree with you, Matt. But I’m sure that at any given time, there are multiple areas in the country that are having power outages. Do we know that this is not a case of, not coincidence, but normalcy? Is this another shark attack summer?

  13. Time for Sprawl!

    Too many bodies crowded into the USA’s northeast rat’s nest.

    C’mon libertarians (and other Americans of good faith) get outta there! There’s plenty of room in Nebraska, Iowa, Nevada, Kansas, North/South Dakota, et al.

    Give those hard-working power grid people a break.

  14. Where’s Kenny Lay?

  15. Twisted — If I was a betting man, I’d say that this was some kind of accident in northern New York, just like they say. I just don’t like it when they rush to declare it as *not* terrorism, when there is no way they could honestly know (“no indication of terrorism” is much preferable, in my book). This is especially so since there were reportedly two separate fires in two separate power plants today that were *not* in northern New York state. I may be a hair-splitting nitpicky idealist, but I think it’s fine to be honest, as opposed to telling us what they think we need to hear. It allows us to use our distributed intelligence, and builds trust.

  16. Ummm, am i the first one to be asking, “Who is John Galt?”

  17. This will, I predict, turn out to be precisely the same sort of dumb-ass cascading failure as in ’65. The grid is under its greatest strain in years with 90+ degree heat everywhere in the country. Probably some poor overloaded turbine up in upstate NY somewhere finally couldn’t take it any more and gave up. The resulting power transient convinced another one to kick off. Transformers blew, urban centers lost power, the grid fragmented.

    Really, the only way to be sure of your precautions is to suffer a catastrophic failure from time to time. It’s a testament to the reliability of the grid that this is news.
    –G

  18. It’s that frickin’ Gray Davis stealing power again. I KNEW this would happen!

  19. Yet another reason you don’t want power to be centralized.

  20. Oh fucking grow up already. Nothing is perfect, and everything man has made will break at some point.

  21. For example: government.

  22. I live in Bridgeport, CT. Around 4:15, the lights in my apartment went off for a second, then went back on. I thought little of it. 10 minutes later, I leave to go catch a movie and buy some stuff from Wal-Mart in Norwalk, about 15 miles to the southwest. After a quick drive on I-95, I take an exit at about 4:40. That’s when I notice that none of the traffic lights in the city, or the lights anywhere else, are working. Needless to say, the theater was closed, but Wal-Mart, interestingly enough, wasn’t. The conveyor belts on the check-out stations were off, and so were most of the lights, but the backup generators were enough to keep the store operational. Those guys truly do plan for everything.

    Though I didn’t get to see a movie, I got more than enough entertainment trying to drive around a city of 80,000 people in which every intersection was a free-for-all. Still, for the most part, traffic managed to regulate itself, even at the larger intersections. I thought it was a telling sign of how people can manage to fend for themselves even with the removal of regulations that 99% of them would consider necessary to prevent absolute chaos. Not that I favor abolishing traffic lights, but we could probably replace a lot of them with alternating stop signs and manage to get by. And I have to wonder whether eliminating speed limits would have the anarchic effect that most people assume it would, or whether most drivers would learn to set their own limits and drive responsibly.

  23. Over at Slashdot they’re already trying to blame it on deregulation.

    Someone has already whined that Alberta’s deregulation caused price increases for consumers. Notably absent from the ritual denunciations is the boon for the environment that ensues when people start being more energy efficient.

    However, given that this appears to be much the same sort of thing that happened in notoriously regulated 1965, I’m not sure the environmental harm that will be caused by all the gas- and diesel-powered generators being fired up is properly blamed on anything but network complexity.

  24. Now THIS will give all the nutty Luddites and environemntal wackos a little taste of what it’s like to run civilization without the very things they’re fighting against.

  25. Should we blame the government? Or blame society? Or should we blame the images on TV?

    No, Blame Canada! Blame Canada!

    With all their beady little eyes
    And flapping heads so full of lies
    Blame Canada! Blame Canada!
    We need to form a full assault
    It’s Canada’s fault!

  26. Its well known that the US has one of the world’s most antiquated routing, switching, etc. systems in the developed world. This is largely due to low investment in lines, technology, etc. Instead of laying all that cable for high-speed internet, the US should have investment in its power delivery systems. However I am sure a market correction is now its way.

    The technology is available, and has been used in Europe and Japan, that will allow these sorts of systems to “heal” themselves instead of merely collapsing. Get to work America. 🙂

  27. For extremely limited values of “Europe”. Or were they warning of rolling blackouts in France because that was just the sniffles as it healed?

  28. Roarke, your comments could easily be applied to our transportation system as well, which is just overused and underdeveloped. Of course, we don’t have major outages for our highways, just major traffic jams each and every weekday during rush hours.

    This is one of the reasons why I think there’s a good chance that the Chinese will surpass us over the long run as the world’s preeminent economic power. For all of flaws in their government and socioeconomic system, they still have a level of dynamism that the US and Europe have long lost. A willingness to think and act big and to carry out wide-ranging reforms, even if some feathers are ruffled and problems are encountered in the short-term. We had this not too long ago, as evidenced by the Interstate Highway and Apollo projects, but these days, anything that ambitious winds up being stalled by a cadre of bureaucrats, regulators, lobbyists, activists, and special interest groups.

    No one seems to notice any of this – the Republicans are too busy funding one foreign policy adventure after another, and the Democrats are too busy providing handouts to their three dozen constituencies. I think some of the blame here can be placed on an excess of democracy, in which politicians care more about placating the masses than looking out for long-term national interests, but this can also be seen as a classic sign of a civilization that’s grown tired, and is at the brink of a decline.

  29. No reason to be so pessimistic, Eric.

    “bureaucrats, regulators, lobbyists, activists, and special interest groups” may be annoying impediments to progress indeed, but they are obstacles that can be overcome.

    Enterprise is a lot like water: It encounters an obstacle (like a boulder in a newly formed river, say) and it either goes around, over, under, or sometimes simply through it.

    Can’t stop the water. Can’t stop enterprising drive and determination either. And, in that quest, we certainly have a lot more going for us than the Chinese! We have a rational philosophy undergirding our resolve.

  30. Sir Humphrey,

    Actually the problem in France is due to the nuclear power plants not being able to cool themselves properly; the next generation being built right now will alleviate this “extreme conditions” problem (to be frank, nothing like this has ever happened in France like this that I can ever recall). 80% of France’s grid is powered by nuclear plants, BTW.

  31. Yes, the one sane thing the French do (as opposed to your friends who come over to visit every 50 years or so) is nuclear power.

    On the other hand, I have never heard of a US nuclear power plant, all of which are a decade or more old, having to be shut down for 40 degree heat or drought. Get to work, France! 😉

  32. This thing started in Canada. I think it’s time the U.S. gave serious consideration to annexing Canada. We need to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

  33. “Time for Sprawl!

    Too many bodies crowded into the USA’s northeast rat’s nest.

    C’mon libertarians (and other Americans of good faith) get outta there! There’s plenty of room in Nebraska, Iowa, Nevada, Kansas, North/South Dakota, et al.”

    Which region people live in isn’t sprawl. Sprawl is about how people live there. Rather than being associated with growth, sprawl often happens in places with flat population growth, as neighborhoods get depopulated and subdivisions get built. This is why it’s so inefficient – it’s about using a lot more resources and paying a lot more costs to house, sell to, and employ the same number of people.

  34. BTW, the modernization of the electrical grid has been fought primarily by NIMBYs seeking to protect their property values and “rights”, not environmentalists seeking to protect ecological well being.

    Of course, there are exceptions for specific projects, and there are a cohort of environmentalists who want to stop growth by choking off power, but most of the opposition is driven by perceived self-interest of property owners, not principle.

  35. Tim Stich:

    You may have found this link already, but this is a decent explanation of power distribution.

    http://www.howstuffworks.com/power.htm

    However, this site doesn’t really cover the problems of managing a huge grid. The task is daunting because the supply has to match the demand very closely to keep the voltage and the frequency of the power within limits. The reasons are pretty technical, but I’ll give you simple example of how the grid is managed.

    My dad used to be an operator at a power plant. In the control room they had a big gauge on the wall showing the frequency of the power they were delivering. The goal in the U.S. is 60 hertz. As load was increased, they had to deliver more and more steam to the turbines to maintain 60 hertz. If for some reason they couldn’t do that, the needle would drop. If it got to something like 59 hertz (I don’t remember the tolerance exactly), the unit would “trip” (take itself off the grid) to protect the rest of the grid. Obviously, this unit leaving the grid increased the load on the rest of power plants. You can see how if everything was already at 95% of capacity, the blackout could cascade…

  36. Could it be this is big news because it happens so seldom?

  37. Get ready to see it happen even more, Doug.

    A top-level engineer was on the air this evening attributing this to EPA regulations, environmentalists, and a general “not-in-my-backyard” mentality emanating from the very people who are now sitting in the dark.

    “The US has one of the world’s most antiquated routing, and switching systems in the developed world.”

    Yet the reason why there has been such a dearth of investment in new lines and technology, is not so much because we don’t have the wherewithal to do so, but because before we can do any digging, lay any line, construct any new transformer, or do whatever it takes to move certain parts of the nation into a more efficacious direction — it takes tons and tons of EPA paperwork, assorted “environmental impact studies” (i.e., which ground hog or cockroach will it affect this time) and a whole host of other barriers and impediments to surmount before we can even begin to move forward.

    Well, let the tree-huggers keep sitting in the dark. They deserve exactly what they asked for.

  38. Well, that was interesting…

    The power’s back on in most of Ontario.

    I found the biggest problem driving home was pedestrians. While drivers treated intersections as 4-way stops, pedestrians just walked right through, causing a lot of traffic.

  39. Drivers always have to yield right of way to pedestrians at a four-way stop sign. Sucks when there’s hundreds or thousands of them, but you always have the choice to park and become one.

  40. While the rest of you are trying to figure out what really happened, I’ve already figured it out.

    Obviously, Shrub wanted to drag attention away from $IRAQ_OR_SIMILAR, so that’s why he and his neo-conmen cause this $EVENT.

    Speaking of $DEROGATORY_BUSH_TERM(rand()%234), where was he when the $EVENT happened anyway? Perhaps he was $PRETZEL_OR_SIMILAR_EMBARRASING_SHRUB_MOMENT(rand()%32).

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