Gridlock: Storms, Blackouts Expose Power Problems : NPR

A power pole is bent after severe storms hit the Bemidji, Minn., area on Tuesday, knocking down thousands of trees and causing extensive damage to utility lines. Thousands of customers were left without power.
     Monte Draper/AP

A power pole is bent after severe storms hit the Bemidji, Minn., area on Tuesday, knocking down thousands of trees and causing extensive damage to utility lines. Thousands of customers were left without power.

As hundreds of thousands swelter without power a week after a violent storm pummeled the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, energy experts say the future will look even worse if the nation’s aging, congested electrical grid isn’t upgraded.

Customers chafe at rising utility bills, but the energy industry warns that the alternative is even scarier: Unless $673 billion is invested in the system, it could break down by 2020, according to an American Society of Civil Engineers reportreleased in April.

The grid’s dependability has become an increasing concern as the system strains to meet increased demand. Bottlenecks in the grid and equipment failures are causing more brownouts and blackouts, energy experts say.

The civil engineers say that if investment in the system isn’t increased by at least $1 billion a year, service interruptions between now and 2020 will cost $197 billion.

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