Arctic blast shows how we take the reliability of energy for granted

  • Article by: KIM CROCKETT
  • Updated: January 8, 2014 - 6:15 PM

When temps plunge, we see that life depends on the reliability of energy we take for granted.

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Power transmission lines are suspended from electricity pylons in Clifton, New Jersey, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2010. U.S. electrical output rose 6.2 percent to 94,254 gigawatthours from a year earlier during the week ending Aug. 14. About 45 percent of U.S. electricity will come from coal plants and 22 percent from natural gas power facilities this year, according to the Energy Department. Photographer: Steve Hockstein/Bloomberg ORG XMIT: 103645948 ORG XMIT: MIN1312041507220842

Photo: Steve Hockstein • Bloomberg,

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It feels like we have become very spoiled — and as a result not grateful for the amazing life that is possible here in the great Northland. Or cognizant of what it takes to deliver reliable, affordable energy when we want it and (more importantly) when we need it.

Like this week.

Our recent big chill is a mere inconvenience rather than life-threatening if we heed common sense — and the furnace and car work as intended. I for one am very grateful that the electrical grid has continued to work, with only a few short and minor exceptions, here in Minnesota. The furnace goes on, so life goes on. The power is on and my Internet is working, so I can work at home while nursing a cold.

OK, the kids were home from school for a few extra days, but that was a wise nod to our dependence on buses and the stupidity of taking unnecessary risks just to prove how tough we are. The fact that they went back yesterday was a bit illogical, but it would be cruel to deprive them of stories about walking to school both ways uphill when it was 10 below.

But one big interruption of the grid would remind us of how precious reliable energy is — how we cannot function without it. I recall last summer when the power was off for days following a big storm in pockets around the metro area. A lot of food spoiled and people were hot and miserable waiting for power to come back on.

Imagine a wide outage in this weather. People can die in hot weather if they have a health condition or are very old, but lots of healthy folks can die in subzero temps.

We are spoiled, if not a bit decadent. How much time, money and effort does our public square devote to issues like ensuring reliable, affordable energy vs. the more trendy “renewable” forms of energy?

The answer is, not enough. We need to use our imagination and our native common sense as we assess the value of our electric grid to our everyday lives — and the precious reliability and affordability of energy as we reach for the lights, turn up the furnace or hop in the car. Renewability does nothing for you if it is not reliable.

Kim Crockett is chief operating officer of the Center of the American Experiment.

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