3rd Blackout in Less Than 3 Years

Here in Calhoun County, we have about 2 inches of snow and had no high winds during the current storm.  But when I got home from work today, Mon Power’s power was off.  Of course, Mon Power’s failure is only a minor inconvenience for us because of our PV and battery storage system.  The inverter kicked us over to our batteries automatically, and everything on our critical load circuits is humming along fine.

But here’s the thing: this is the third major blackout to hit WV in less than 3 years, the second one in less than six months.  It’s time we had a little talk.

It appears that WV’s coal-fired electricity industry, along with its coal-fired politicians and regulators, have dragged the rest of us into what scientists call a feedback loop.  Our Ohio-based power companies generate 90% of the electricity generated in WV from coal.  The carbon dioxide from the burning of that coal is the biggest single contributor to global warming.  All of the global warming computer models show that the main impact of global warming on the northeastern US will be larger storm systems, more erratic weather patterns and stronger unusual weather events.  The three major storms in the last three years have devastated WV’s 50 year old electrical distribution system, which has suffered as WV’s Ohio-based power companies have also starved our state for investment in local infrastructure maintenance.  The result is makeshift emergency repairs that generate more instability and cost West Virginians more and more in rate increases to pay for those slipshod repairs.  As storms continue to pile up, one after the other, the last storm’s quick fixes collapse, because they were never reworked to provide more lasting service.

So our power companies and politicians and regulators tell us addressing global warming would lead to very expensive electricity, as global warming generates more and more storms that end up producing more and more costly repairs to our distribution system, which causes rates to rise anyway.  That is a classic feedback loop.

While world weather is more and more subject to the feedback loops which are accelerating warming faster than scientists had predicted, WV’s electrical system is now trapped in an economic feedback loop.  Our state’s regulators and politicians have bought the power companies’ claims that coal is cheap and that regulators should not be forcing power companies to invest in real system reliability.  Now we are learning the hard way that this isn’t true.

Rebuilding our electrical system by building local micro-grids based on small scale, non-coal generation breaks this feedback loop in two ways:  it reduces global warming’s more destructive weather patterns AND it creates a distribution system that is more robust and can support itself when other parts of the distribution system fail.  While WV politicians parrot the coal company slogan that coal keeps the lights on, West Virginians are finding out that, in fact, coal is the reason our lights are off.

If you have lost faith in our state’s business, political and regulatory leaders to break out of this vicious circle, create your own micro-grid using solar panels and batteries.  All you need to do is a little math to see that the situation with WV’s fragile distribution system is going to get much worse, before it gets any better.  One thing is now crystal clear: as families and individuals, we need to start investing in our own electrical reliability, from the bottom up.  Invest in your future.  Our state’s leaders certainly aren’t.

5 thoughts on “3rd Blackout in Less Than 3 Years

  1. When you break the feedback loop we’re stuck in, FirstEnergy and AEP don’t make a whole bunch of money, but West Virginians have an affordable, reliable supply of energy. What is the purpose of our PUBLIC SERVICE Commission? Is it to make sure that Tony the Trickster has enough money to buy a new sports car next month?

  2. Lost power for about 18 hours in Annandale (East Virginia). Fortunately, my backup generator (natural gas) kicked-in and I hardly suffered any inconvenience. Still waiting for Home Depot and/or Lowes to begin stocking hardware/software so that I can take advantage of alternative (non-fossil fuel) energy. Thinking I may need to look elsewhere.

    • Joe,
      Maybe you need to move to Germany. TWO YEARS AGO, the German entry to the Solar Decathlon had a solar electrical system made entirely from components purchased off the shelf from German big box retailers. The German feed in tariff system created the demand that generated the retail explosion in readily available “plug and play” solar equipment. The US simply falls more and more behind.

  3. Our neighbors and my household have a microgrid in Roane County–which works because they have a grid-tied system, and we have an off-grid, battery-based system. When we get a week with no sun at all in winter, our batteries get low–and we can pipe a little power from the neighbors. When the derecho knocked out power here, and their grid-tied system became useless in the blazing sun, we sent power back to keep their freezer running. This storm has not cut power here, so far. Another option I can imagine for a microgrid around here is to have someone with a good creek (we’re on a ridge) who has microhydro, tied in with neighbors with solar panels, Most of the time, deficits in one are matched with surpluses in the other.

    • This is exactly the kind of thinking, and acting we need in WV. It will only come from the people who have the inspiration to do it. We certainly aren’t getting that inspiration from political “leaders” or the PSC.

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