New Yorkers’ resilience in the face of tragedy and crisis was once again tested this week by Hurricane Sandy. In the wake of devastation left behind by this natural disaster, we are forced to realize we cannot afford to take anything we have for granted, especially electricity. Hurricane Sandy has succeeded in underscoring the fundamental need for electricity. This basic necessity is essential to expediting recovery efforts, powering the crucial equipment, medical facilities, and transportation infrastructure needed to rebuild and restore our communities.
Without electricity to power our infrastructure, the pipelines which carry gasoline and other refined products to northeast coast cannot operate. Those oil supplies will continue to tighten as gasoline remains in underground tanks and undeliverable due to power outages, downed trees, and traffic. This fuel shortage is already at crisis levels and we are quickly reaching the point where some difficult, consequential decisions might have to be made if essential services such as police, fire, public works departments, and ambulances are to continue operating.
As utility companies work to re-power the electrical grid, it is helpful to understand that energy works as a system that is sustained by policies and institutions, designed to maintain reliability, and capable of responding to disruptions, dislocations, and emergency situations. It consists of power plants, transmission lines, pipelines, supply chains, and trade routes. This latest crisis has exposed numerous flaws in an essential component of that system, New York’s electric transmission infrastructure, further delineating the importance of upgrading our electrical grid and bolstering access to a variety of energy resources throughout the state. Investment in our transmission infrastructure would make it easier to temporarily import power from less affected parts of the state and re-route it around downed lines to the disaster areas where it is needed most.
The inconvenient truth is that we are being reminded about the vital role electricity plays in powering our lives. From schools to hospitals and nursing homes, without electricity we will remain in a state of emergency. The sooner we realize that we must protect, invest and grow in-state power generation and expand transmission to withstand major weather and other disaster events – the more ready we will be to face the future.