Federal faltering

The August 14 blackout that affected about 45 million homes and businesses in North America has focused attention on the need for better planning of the transmission system. "The cascading nature of the this blackout offers an object lesson of how the electricity grid requires regional co-ordination and planning, a challenge the nation is still striving to meet,'" says Pat Wood, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory chairman and friend of wind power.

Since the blackout, the security and robustness of the nation's transmission system has become an energy issue of equal importance to forging a national energy policy. Electric utilities and transmission organisations, with no market incentives to do so, have made few additions or upgrades to the transmission system since 1987. The cost to fix the problem now runs into billions of dollars. But with a declining economy and a costly war on terrorism, federal financial support for something as plebeian as transmission -- particularly once the urgency dies -- will be a tough battle at federal level.