Obama Came Close to Fulfilling Cheney/Lay Dream

I was reading the January 30 issue of The New Yorker the other day, when I came across some shocking information.  As President Obama was planning strategy for the economic stimulus fight with the anti-economics Republicans in Congress, he actually considered pursuing the Cheney/Lay plan to federalize the US transmission grid for electricity speculators at the expense of reliability.

Ryan Lizza, the author of the article “The Obama Memos” article, is one of the inside the beltway media villagers who spend all their time talking to each other in the echo chamber.  I would provide a link, but The New Yorker keeps its articles behind a pay wall.  His story is full of political cliches and is otherwise mostly forgettable, except that it contains the following revelation:

At a meeting in Chicago on December 16th to discuss the memo, Obama did not push for a stimulus larger than what Summers recommended.  Instead, he pressed his advisers to include an inspiring “moon shot” initiative, such as building a national “smart grid” — a high-voltage transmission system sometimes known as the “electricity superhighway,” which would make America’s power supply much more efficient and reliable.

As you can see from this extract, Lizza has no idea about his subject matter.  All he does is repeat catch-phrases from power company propaganda.  How much of this is Lizza and how much he took from the discussions of the matter in the White House is not clear from the article, but one thing is clear — none of them knew what they were talking about.

Here is a list of myths in this very short passage:

  • Smart grid technologies have little to do with building new high voltage transmission lines.  “Smart grid” refers to digital controls, not transmission hardware.
  • Smart grid technologies are used most effectively to promote distributed generation, the exact opposite of building a more centralized system by building more high voltage transmission lines.
  • The US electric transmission system is not a “superhighway” in any respect.  Electrons do not behave like cars and trucks.
  • Building more and more transmission lines designed to keep alive obsolete, centralized power generation reduces system efficiency through increasing line loss and the favoring of expanded generation over demand management and reduction.
  • As national experts have pointed out repeatedly, and increasingly widespread cascading failures have demonstrated, moving more and more electricity over longer and longer distances reduces system reliability.

The one comfort I took away from Lizza’s article was that President Obama abandoned this crazy Cheney-inspired policy.  I have seen some visits to The Power Line from the White House in the last few years.  I can only hope we may have contributed to this sensible decision in some small way.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration continues Cheney’s work through the ramrodding of several transmission projects around the US, including the shameless deal that Sec. of Interior Salazar seems to have cut with the Susquehanna-Roseland line.

5 thoughts on “Obama Came Close to Fulfilling Cheney/Lay Dream

  1. interesting.. just spent the week with regulators in DC this week. could not believe how frequently the analogy of the transmission Grid being similar to the interstate highway system was used. Finally Patience could stand it no longer, I guess and had to point out there really was not a similarity, since transmission lines would generate a large amount of revenue for private owners. Not sure the regulators got the message.

    • I thought it interesting that Phil Jones, the commissioner from Washington state (Oregon?), in the last session of the day, lamented that consumers/ratepayers weren’t involved at the Forum and didn’t know everything that is going on in their names. He’s going to be the president of NARUC next year – it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any changes to try to encourage people like us to attend and participate. (And thanks, Sandi – I wish I’d known you were there! Would have been nice to know I had someone sympathetic in the audience.)

  2. As usual gov’t has sold out to big business instead of as the saying goes FOR THE PEOPLE BY THE PEOPLE. Instead of creating something that state of the art, practical and reliable as stated by energy companies it is realistically a case of putting money in their pockets at our expense.

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