Aug 162003

Well. If you’ve tried to reach the site lately you’ve probably surmised why you couldn’t. I run my own web server, and living in Chelsea, I was the one of the last to get my power back, at 8:00 PM last night, 28 hours after it went down. This was accurately predicted by a Con Ed functionary I spoke to 20 minutes after the lights went out. “24 hours at least,” he said. Remarkably, he seemed to be far better informed than Mayor Bloomberg, who told the city at 5 PM Thursday night that the power would return in a couple hours, at 6 that it would return by nightfall, at nightfall that it would return by tomorrow morning, and at 11 that it would return Real Soon Now. Bloomberg, Plato’s mayor, apparently considers it his duty to tell New Yorkers what he thinks they ought to do but what he thinks they ought to hear as well.

Previous mayors would have handled things differently. Giuliani would have donned a Con Edison cap and told the truth, more or less. Koch would have waxed Jewish-mother-philosophical and bragged about how big New York’s backup generators were. Dinkins would have been out of town on a tennis holiday and unavailable for comment.

My favorite bit from the blackout was its attribution, by Bloomberg and several other city officials, to a “natural occurrence.” Yes, Mother Nature’s Power Grid went on the blink again. Private corporations screw up and out come the torches and pitchforks. Public utilities cause billions in damage, and it’s an act of God.

  2 Responses to “The Pause That Refreshes”

  1. I hadn’t heard the "natural occurrence" line. From what I’ve read, there seems to be a general consensus that the "grid" is out of date and inadequate for current (as it were) levels of usage. I’m not sure it’s quite accurate to call the present electricity system a "public utility;" the sytsem in New York has been partly deregulated, from what I read, in precisely the disastrously half-assed way that they "deregulated" in California (opening up the market for supply without similarly opening up the rates that can be charged on the demand side). What’s interesting is how, depending on their political bent, various people have been calling for either more or less regulation as the solution…

  2. That’s not it exactly. As Lynn Kiesling, a real expert on the subject, points out, "generation is largely governed by market processes, while transmission and retail distribution remain heavily regulated." And it’s distribution, not generation, that is the true problem.

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