Sierra Club Touts Change after Blackouts

The Sierra Club expressed its sympathy and concern for those citizens affected by the blackouts in the eastern U.S. and Canada. Noting that the Bush Administration and some Senators are already pushing their “outdated” energy policy, the Sierra Club pointed instead to workable solutions that will reduce the vulnerability of our current energy delivery system, increase the efficiency and security of our energy supply, and protect consumers in an environmentally responsible way.

Washington D.C. – August 20, 2003 [] “This blackout is a wake-up call that our existing system needs to be updated. There’s a better way,” said Debbie Boger, Sierra Club’s Washington Representative for Global Warming and Energy. “The best way to prevent energy bottlenecks and grid overload is to increase the efficiency of our buildings, homes, factories and appliances, in addition to our transmission lines. Building more power plants won’t help because we’re looking at transmission line bottlenecks. Instead, we need to decentralize America’s power sources, use more renewable energy like wind and solar power, and ensure power companies aren’t allowed to deregulate and manipulate markets. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration’s energy plan, developed with the energy industry, will take us backwards on all these counts.” As power is being restored to all of the affected areas, Americans can start looking at the following steps outlined by the Sierra club to address the country’s overall electricity problems. Increase Efficiency: There is some evidence that the outage was due to the system being overloaded, and transmission lines getting bottlenecked. This is not surprising given the heat wave in the Northeast, with many air conditioners running. We can help protect ourselves against these types of bottlenecks in the future by making sure we have the most energy efficient buildings, air conditioners, factories and appliances – this will ease the demand and prevent more bottlenecks. Last year the Bush Administration weakened a provision to make air conditioners 30 percent more efficient. Enacting such provisions, and providing tax incentives for buildings to increase their efficiency would go a long way to reducing strain on the grid. Decentralize Power: Another factor in the blackout appears to have been transmission failures in getting electricity to move over long distances. It is important, both for security and reliability’s sake, to make sure that we have reliable local sources of power, such as solar and wind. These types of decentralized, homegrown sources can increase the reliability of the overall grid and lessen the chances that a problem in one area of the country will affect other areas. Improve Power Lines: The Sierra Club supports improving the efficiency of transmission lines and responsibly siting these lines after Environmental Impact Statements have been completed. New technology allows transmission lines to carry 1.5 to 3 times as much power as conventional transmission lines. In addition, they significantly reduce line losses. Protect Consumers: The Bush Administration and some members of Congress continue to push an energy policy that would actually make these types of situations worse, said the Sierra Club. The Bush Administration’s plan would severely weaken consumer protections in the electricity sector, further exposing consumers to Enron-type manipulation, said the organization. This is especially troubling given the role that Enron played in manipulating the California electricity markets. While there is no evidence that manipulation played a role in the Northeast blackout, we certainly should not be weakening consumer protections in the electricity sector and opening the door to further abuses and manipulation, said the Sierra Club.
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