Washington Post Op-ed: The New Orleans Power Outage Shows How Urgently a Climate-resilient Power Grid Is Needed

Robert Verchick

Sept. 3, 2021

This op-ed was originally published in the Washington Post.

Ask just about any New Orleanian to name the most exasperating thing about the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, and you’ll get the same answer. It isn’t the floodwater. Or the roof damage. It’s something more familiar but equally as threatening to life, health and property: power failure.

This week, Entergy, Louisiana’s largest power company, warned customers to brace for several days or even weeks without power. That means no light, no microwave oven, no refrigerator — and getting by on candles and canned food. It means no air conditioning amid an often-triple-digit heat index, no computer and no Internet, unless you can get online with a smartphone — which you don’t have power to charge. Gas stations are closed because electric pumps can’t pump. In some neighborhoods, toilets don’t flush because sewage plants have conked out.

The problem started soon after Ida made landfall, when all eight of our region’s high-voltage transmission lines failed. In one instance, a 400-foot-tall transmission tower supporting power lines spanning the length of more than 10 football fields across the Mississippi River crumpled like a foil candy wrapper.

When Hurricane Katrina drowned the city and killed power across the southern parishes 16 years ago, we learned only half the lesson. The federal government invested nearly $15 billion to build a formidable flood-protection system.

This system defended the city admirably against Ida’s immediate danger. But the government did not pay similar attention to the power grid, and we’re feeling the pain now.

The nation’s aging electricity network is startlingly susceptible to disaster nearly everywhere. Climate change, which intensifies floods, storms and wildfires, multiplies the risk. Ida is only the most recent siren to blow.

Read the full op-ed online at the Washington Post.

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