Week of July 28, 2022

America’s Electrical Infrastructure
on the Verge of Collapse


 Europe isn’t the only region worried about a mass failure of its electrical power network.  America is also in the throes of an electrical power crisis.  In Texas, high temperatures have forced conservation measures, including cutbacks at some factories in the state. The electrical grid, however, has not failed as it did two winters ago – although it has been pushed to its limits.

However, there is a greater threat to the nation’s power system, along with the threat to the water supply of millions of citizens.  It is the 86-year-old Hoover Dam system, which borders Nevada and Arizona.  A long-term drought has caused its reservoir, Lake Mead, to drop to historically low levels, which threatens the electrical power of the American Southwest as well as water for millions of people in the West.  It also provides critical irrigation water for many farmers in the desert Southwest.

Despite the critical nature of this dam, little of the infrastructure money allocated in the past few years has gone to the dam or its reservoirs.

The Hoover Dam is responsible for the unprecedented population growth in the Southwest in the last eight decades.  Over 50% of the electricity supplied by the dam goes to Southern California municipalities.  Los Angeles, itself, uses nearly as much electricity as Arizona.  Los Angeles and Southern California take over 50%.

The dam system is so critical that after 9-11, the US government diverted US Route 93 to prevent possible terrorist attacks on the dam.

The US Army also stationed troops at Hoover Dam during WWII.

The current threat is more long term – drought.  The Southwest has been in a historical long-term drought.  Although some have blamed manmade climate change, archeologists have recorded many long-term droughts in the past – droughts so severe that it changed population movements in the region and led to the disappearance of the Anasazi civilization around 1300 AD.

“We are in the 23rd year of drought here in the Colorado River Basin and Lake Mead (the largest reservoir in America, which stores the water for the dam) has dropped down to 28 percent,” says Patti Aaron of the US Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam.

The lake is currently 1,200 feet above sea level, but if it drops down to 1,050 feet, it will be unable to produce electricity.

The lake is currently dropping about a foot a week.

If Lake Mead drops too much, the government can release water from other dams upstream of the Hoover Dam to keep the generators running.  However, that only delays the problem.

The short-term answer is to cut back on water demand, especially in populated areas like Southern California, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.  Reducing water for farming in the region would only exacerbate the food shortage currently driving up prices.

But America’s electrical infrastructure has more problems than the Hoover Dam.

The Midwest is at risk in addition to the Southwest and Texas.  The North American Electric Reliability Corporation warns of a high risk of its energy reserves falling short of its energy needs this summer.  Energy generation capacity has dropped 2.3%, while demand has gone up by 1.7%.

The Western US is currently at an elevated level of risk.

None of this has been helped by the Biden Administration’s attempt to regulate the fossil fuel industry out of business, the reduced supply of fossil fuel from Russia, and America’s attempt to supply its allies with a backup supply of gas for this winter.

Some power companies in America and abroad are reactivating coal powered power stations.

According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2000, there were fewer than two dozen major power failures.  In 2020, it increased to over 180.  Yet, the recent infrastructure bill only allocated $27 billion to the electrical grid, although experts say over two trillion dollars is needed – an amount of money that would have to be paid by consumers who are already facing crippling inflation.

Part of the problem is the administration’s demand for reducing fossil fuel as a source of electricity.  Renewable sources like wind and solar are unreliable, especially during extreme weather like cold weather.

That means electrical demand is expected to grow as more consumers buy electrical vehicles and move away from heating their houses with natural gas.


Will America Muddle Through?

America is facing several problems that could push the nation’s power industry into a crisis.  If there isn’t enough snowfall in the Rockies this winter, the Colorado River may not provide enough water to keep Lake Mead at a level to produce energy.

The same problem can occur if the Midwest experiences high temperatures that drive up electrical demand – as well as damaging crops.

The East is not immune, and a bad hurricane season can ruin the aging infrastructure of the East Coast.

One problem in the US is that the Biden Administration is tone deaf to the signs – which is why Biden’s poll numbers are at levels lower than Lake Mead.  While European nations are moving back to fossil fuel to survive the upcoming winter, the Biden Administration seems fixed on forcing US consumers to spend more on energy – both for their homes and vehicles.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said high energy prices wouldn’t impact consumers with electric vehicles, although studies show that the cost of powering an electric vehicle is four times the cost of air conditioning one’s house.

Even Transportation Secretary Buttigieg has noted that the current power grid can’t handle the increased demand for powering electric vehicles.

There has been discussion that Biden can move America dramatically towards a “clean energy” infrastructure by declaring a national emergency.  However, given the recent Supreme Court Ruling (West Virginia vs. EPA), there is little likelihood that such a national emergency will be declared constitutional.

And, given the response of the Saudis to the idea of a massive increase in petroleum production last week during the Biden Salman meeting, it appears that the Middle East will not save him.

This leaves the Biden Administration with a difficult balancing act.  They can roll back their energy policies like many European nations and not risk the anger of American voters.  Or they can use executive regulation, face higher inflation in the energy sector, risk the loss of the Senate and House in November, and a possible failure of the electrical infrastructure.

Given Biden’s past behavior, he is heading towards a major midterm election loss.  If a crisis breaks the US electrical infrastructure, civil unrest may be on the horizon.