Avoiding Catastrophe

The international headlines are startling: Hundreds of Millions Without Power in India. The collapse of three different power grids has stalled trains and left hospitals barely running on backup generators. These events are a warning to rural Americans.

With an increasing national population and more stress on our aging power grid, the ingredients for a world-class disaster--like we are witnessing in India--becomes more and more of a possibility here at home.

The US electrical grid is an engineering marvel, but it hasn’t aged well. Our national transmission system is a cobbled-together network of towers and power lines, managed by different regional groups. This tangled weave works for the most part: power failures are rare. But we’re flirting with disaster by continually kicking the can down the road, waiting for someone else to reform our transmission network.

Rural communities pride themselves on being resilient, living off the land and fending for themselves. This is why they should support transmission improvements.

First, improving our transmission system--both by installing new high-voltage lines and increasing the prevalence of the smart grid--will help make our nation stronger against power catastrophes like the one in India. Transmission improvements will move our electricity around more efficiently, and the real-time data provided by the smart grid will help forestall the domino effect blackouts can have.

Second, improved transmission brings renewable energy closer to rural residents. Many rural areas are ripe with wind, and new transmission lines can transport the electricity from these rural regions to paying customers elsewhere. Rural communities can benefit from leasing their land to wind developers, not to mention the construction and service jobs that will be created.

Rural communities who choose to avoid leasing their land to wind developers can still benefit from improved transmission. With a smarter grid and stronger electrical network, rural residents can install solar panels, wind turbines, and other small-scale renewable energy efforts on their land. Communities that buy-in to renewable energy make themselves more profitable, and more resilient to power outages. If the grid system fails, folk with solar panels on their roofs or small wind turbines in their fields can still pump water, keep food cold and power their essentials.

America needs to improve its transmission system, if only to avoid the calamities that we’re already witnessing worldwide. And any way you slice it, improvements to our grid are a huge win for rural America.