Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Threat of Power Shortages Generating New Urgency
By David A. Fahrenthold, Lisa Rein and Kirstin Downey
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 3, 2008; Page A01

Electric power has already become painfully expensive in Washington and its suburbs. Now, local utilities say, it could become something even worse: scarce...

...Utility and government officials say the region has to face the idea that its demand for electricity could overtake the supply. In a little more than three years, they say, lights could flicker off in rolling blackouts.

...The story behind the electricity price increases begins in the late 1990s, when Virginia, Maryland and the District loosened their controls on the power industry. As in many other states, the idea was to let customers choose among power suppliers, creating competition that would push prices down.

But instead, rates have gone up.

Power companies say they have been hit with higher costs, which had to be passed on to customers. The prices of natural gas and coal have increased sharply. And because the region needed to import electricity from other areas, utilities had to pay the power-line equivalent of highway tolls.

Some consumer advocates contend that the power companies have abused their new freedom, raising prices to boost profits...

...The region's increasing energy needs are attributable, in part, to its increasing population. But Washington area residents and businesses also seem to be using many more kilowatts per capita than in the past.

...Across the region, new homes are often wired with high-tech, high-energy entertainment systems, as media-room gadgets creep out into bedrooms and kitchens.

...Now come stepped-up warnings of serious power shortages. In December, a study by the Maryland Public Service Commission found that the state might face rolling blackouts as early as 2011 or 2012. Power could be shut down for perhaps an hour at a time in certain areas, probably on hot days when air conditioners strain the grid.

Virginia officials have agreed with utilities that more power plants or transmission lines will be needed in that state in the next decade. The D.C. Department of the Environment has not yet evaluated utilities' predictions of power shortfalls, an official said last week....


Garnel Ironheart said...

We had this problem a few years ago in Ontario, except that it was the public electricity supplier that was the problem. Seems they were running our nuclear plants in a way that makes Homer Simpson look competent.
There are ways to encourage people to conserve power but making it seem normal to have 5 computers on in the house while the air conditioning is set to 64 degrees is not one of them.

Ahavah said...

It's especially silly to try and tell people with small children to turn down the heat - the kids are crawling and toddling on the floors, for heaven's sake! Pneumonia is more expensive than the electric bill. But it's true most people don't make nearly as much of an effort to conserve energy as they could.

Part of that is just sloppy cheap home design and construction these days.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Carpets instead of hard wood floors. New triple pane windows to keep heat in. Put socks and long pants on the toddlers. There are little things people can do that aren't inconvenient.

It's also a matter of training. I like to conserve because I grew up in the late 1970's during the energy crisis when conservation was really emphasized. My wife grew up in the 1980's when everything was free-for-all and doesn't know how to turn off lights when she leaves a room.

Instead of global warming and its effects on Africa, we should teach our kids how to turn down the furnace and the AC. That'll make a bigger difference to our behaviours in the end.

Ahavah said...

Believe it or not, wall-to-wall carpet is a really bad deal. If electricity is scarce or unreliable, or if you just need to keep your bills down, how are you going to vacuum? Rugs can be taken out, put on the line, beat and swept with a broom and even spot-treated and sprayed with a garden hose. With wall-to-wall you have no choice but to hire professional cleaners - not to mention the microscopic and not-so-microscopic critters that love wall-to-wall, and the molds and mildews. If you use air conditioning, wall-to-wall is a terrible idea. Just like a glass sweats, so does your foundation. Guess where the moisture goes - even if it's not "enough" for you to notice!

I am seriously thinking that electrically heated floor tiles are probably the most efficient heating method. Forced air is very wasteful and inefficient. Tile flooring, even if not heated, is about the most environmentally flooring you can get. Bamboo might come in a close second.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Good points. Or, you could just wear socks and houseshoes, yes?