The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

Destruction of the Electric Power System

Mar 17, 2014

Last year in April, someone used machine guns to knock out 17 giant electrical transformers near San Jose, California. These transformers were distributing electricity to Silicon Valley. To avoid a blackout, electric-grid officials rerouted power around the site.

Last year, this attack briefly made it to news. At the time, PG&E, which owns the transmission substation, said the transformers had been hit by vandals. Nobody was arrested or charged in the attack.

Now, one year after the attack, it is widely discussed in the news. Over time, the utility executives, the federal officials and politicians upgraded the attack from vandalism to sabotage, and are now spinning out this attack as an act of terrorism, and many politicians picked up on this. Who knows what really happened.

However, each year, there are more than 1,500 unplanned outages in the Western Power Grid. And these outages have nothing to do with terrorism or vandalism, which are extremely rare events.

Weather is often the immediate cause of outages. But the power system should be modern and flexible enough to prevent or minimize the effects of such outages.

Meanwhile, the power stations that generate electrical power and the electric grid that distributes power are very aged, prone to frequent malfunctions and failures. The average age of U.S. commercial nuclear reactors is about 33 years, close to their retirement age of 40. Most large transformers that regulate power transmission, like those attacked in California, were designed with life spans of 40 to 50 years. Yet the average age of transformers is 42 years. Any loose screw or fried wire could very easily knock out these transformers.

Thus, the power stations and the grid are in dire need of being modernized. But, power companies are not willing to do it, since modernization would cut into profits. Shifting the focus to terrorists is a scheme to cloak this greed for profit that is the basic cause of power outages on a massive scale.