In a recent article at Seacoast Online, a utility regulatory expert and a former Maine legislator spell out why electrical utility companies resist safety standards that would protect people from the effects of long term power outages.
In a cold Maine winter a power outage is especially dangerous for obvious reasons. A long term power outage can cause mass deaths throughout the U.S. from secondary and tertiary causes. Imagine dense urban areas going for three weeks or longer with out clean water, food storage, transportation, or communications equipment for law enforcement. Not only would people die from a lack of basic resources, more would die in the struggle for those resources.
The U.S. government has made many efforts to require electrical utility companies to protect themselves from major solar storms. They have known for many years that a major solar storm could melt critical and irreplaceable high voltage transformers. That is at least according to NASA, the Idaho National Laboratories, the White House Office of Technology and Science Policy, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and U.S. Departments of Energy and Homeland Security.
The problem is that none of those bodies have authority to enforce safety regulations on electrical utility companies. The electrical utility company trade association (whose members consist of electrical utility companies) regulate themselves. Their trade association is called NERC (The North American Electrical Reliability Corporation).
NERC and the electrical companies set their standards artificially low. Then when the individual companies meet or slightly exceed those low standards, they avoid liability. When they are not liable, their customers pay for their failures.
If any members of NERC protect their critical facilities from real threats like solar storms, they threaten the artificially low safety standards. That would then call into question the industry’s ability to regulate itself.
This is what began to play out in Maine over the past weeks where Maine legislators tried to protect Maine’s grid from solar storm damage. The electrical utility lobby stopped them. You can read the story here.