The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

What Hurricane Isabel started, power companies finished

Sep 22, 2003

Hurricane Isabel roared ashore in North Carolina packing 105 mile per hour winds. During the next day or two, as it diminished in strength, it traveled up through Virginia and West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and finally Canada.

This storm caused more people to lose electrical power in Virginia, Maryland and some other areas than had ever lost power before. In the Washington, D.C. area two-thirds of all homes, counting half a million people, were without electricity. In central Maryland, including Baltimore, 60% of all homes, with one and a quarter million people, lost power. All together, about six million people in the affected states were left in the dark, without refrigeration and in some cases without even running water. Two days after the end of the storm, about three million people still had no electricity.

While there may be no way to prevent hurricanes and other destructive storms, there certainly are ways to prevent much of the damage these storms cause. Most power losses in storms are due to damaged above-ground electrical lines, transformers and other equipment. If these lines and equipment were sheltered underground, for example, much of this damage would not occur, even in storms more severe than Isabel. In addition, if the power utility companies hadn't gotten rid of so many of their linemen and other repair workers in recent years, they could repair storm damage much more quickly, so homes and small business weren't left without electricity for days.

But companies that produce and distribute electric power for a profit don't organize their business according to such calculations. Their chase after profit is why there is no cheap and sure source of electric power for the population.