Early in the afternoon of Thursday, August 14,
something happened. Power lines failed. Overloaded lines tripped off. To
fill the sudden vacuum, power was pulled from Michigan into Ohio. Then, to
fill this void, power was pulled from Ontario, Canada, into Michigan.
Next, power was pulled from New York into Ontario. Ultimately, millions of
Americans in the Midwest and Northeast were in the dark in what some
experts say is the largest power outage in our history, and certainly the
largest since 1977.
No sooner did the flow of electricity begin again
than legislators, regulators, utilities, citizen groups and the media
began wondering: What happened? And, perhaps more importantly, how and why
did it happen? Definitive answers are still not known, as the U.S.
Department of Energy and the North American Electric Reliability Council
continue to gather millions of facts and sort through them for clear
Perhaps of most interest to those of us in Virginia
is this: Could it happen here? And the safest answer is “Maybe.” To
which we should probably add, “But it’s not likely.” While we
don’t know exactly why the blackout happened up north, we do know that
our region of the country seems to have the capacity to generate enough
electricity to meet our own needs. This has been aided in recent months by
Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, which provides all the power
requirements for 10 of Virginia’s 13 local cooperatives.
Old Dominion has recently built two
electric-generating stations, one in Maryland and one in Louisa County,
and is building a third in Fauquier County. Old Dominion already owns half
of the coal-fired Clover Power Station in Halifax County, and almost 12
percent of the North Anna Nuclear Power Station in Louisa. These five
stations make up an “electric generating portfolio” intended to help
ensure that cooperatives are doing everything possible to meet your power
needs today and deep into the future.
Does building these electric-generating stations
guarantee that a blackout won’t happen here? No. But it does absolutely
increase our ability to provide you with reliable, affordable power in an
industry that is undergoing rapid, dramatic change. Some experts, in fact,
are wondering whether our nation’s existing electric transmission grid
is capable of handling the complex movement of power from region to region
that will be required when deregulation and customer choice are fully
Clearly, our nation needs to tackle the need to
upgrade existing transmission lines and to build additional ones, to
handle the burgeoning growth in usage of electricity, growth powered by
population surges and technological breakthroughs that frequently require
electricity as a power source. Controlling demand for electricity is also,
and has been for two decades or more, a priority for electric cooperatives
and other utilities.
These highly technical but critically important
issues — the siting and building of power stations and transmission
lines, the ability to move power from region to region, creative ways to
control demand, ways to increase usage of domestic fuel sources, and ways
to utilize renewable sources of power — are all being considered by
Congress as this issue of Cooperative Living goes to press. It is likely
that Congress will pass an energy bill before the end of the year. We’ll
keep you informed about how this will affect you and your family.
In the meantime, on the home front, please know that
your local electric cooperative is in business for one purpose: to provide
you with the most reliable power possible at the lowest possible cost.
This doesn’t guarantee that a blackout will never happen here, but it
does guarantee that highly competent local folks are looking out for your
interests every hour of every day. That’s the cooperative way.