Can you imagine that we have electric reliability?

STROLLING THROUGH New York City’s Central Park during the nation’s largest electrical blackout, I wasn’t far from where musician John Lennon was shot and killed. His song Imagine, with its annoying platitudes, popped into my head. But, of course, I “edited” some words to fit the times: “Imagine there’s no electric reliability. It’s easy if you try. …I hope some day you’ll join me, in a world that gets it right.”

As I witnessed New Yorkers trying to cope, I remember from my newspaper editorial writing days at The Augusta Chronicle why electric service reliability is generally taken for granted in the Southeast. I recall during those brain-numbing editorial board meetings with the power company that service reliability has been good for decades because the vertically integrated utilities have been doing such a good job building plants for the future. And I learned that transmission lines (the large lines that deliver power to large regions) can only carry a finite number of electrons and then they fail.

For the past two decades, very few transmission lines have been built because of local “not in my backyard” (or NIMBY) battles. It recently took Ohio-based American Electric Power 12 years to gain the necessary approvals to site a new transmission line connecting West Virginia to Virginia. In New York City, the NIMBY crowd is trying to block a generating plant proposed for the Brooklyn waterfront, even though locating generating plants close to customers is the best technical solution to the current blackouts.

Smaller system operators – such as those we see in the traditional vertically-integrated utilities that served this country so well – are preferred. This helps isolate outages to smaller pockets of customers when systems overload. The recent cascading blackout stopped when neighboring utilities disconnected their tie lines from the affected utilities.

AS FOR NATIONAL energy policy, an objective look at the record would show that reliability has been taking a jolt because of former President Bill Clinton’s socialist energy policies and their continuation by those who dominate the five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chaired by George W. Bush appointee Pat Wood.

Through a so-called standard market design, FERC claims it will be easier to connect buyers and sellers of electricity as well as to bring down prices. Don’t buy it. This country’s electric grid was not built to transport huge blocks of power from Ohio, send it through Canada and deliver it into New York City. And California learned that importing power from Oregon and Washington has its risks. The “one-size-fits-all” approach endorsed by FERC won’t work in all regions of the country.

Conversely, in the Southeast, electric utilities offer high reliability, low prices and the best customer service in any service-oriented industry. Why do you think every new automobile manufacturing plant constructed in the last 15 years has been located in the American South? And where do you think businesses will go when they can’t depend on the power supply in California or in the Northeast?

Let’s not lose sight of the ball. Investigate what caused the blackout. Fine. But our elected lawmakers need to make sure FERC – with its penchant for Soviet-style central planning in the name of “de-regulation” – doesn’t keep meddling in healthy electricity markets.

CONGRESS needs to pass an energy bill that provides for a gradual, tailored national transmission plan that, among other things, makes it easier for states to allow the siting of new power plants and new transmission lines. Except for the radical, no-growth left that, to date, has influenced far too many politicians, the American people now realize that new transmission is needed, everywhere.

Imagine that Congress and the president do the right thing in this regard. Or imagine that, if not, there will be even more electrical blackouts and resulting hardships on Americans and their economy.

(Editor’s note: The writer is the author of the newly-released The Dark Side of Liberalism: Unchaining the Truth.)