Shut Up, Haters: Don’t Blame Energy Efficiency for the Super Bowl Blackout
Well, that didn’t take long. Last night’s Super Bowl -- in which a stadium blackout managed to upstage Beyoncé, not to mention the winning Baltimore Ravens -- wasn’t even over before energy efficiency started getting the blame for the power outage that plunged half the Superdome into darkness.
As Politico reports this morning:
The Drudge Report snarkily linked to an Energy Department article published Saturday that praised New Orleans for being at the “Energy Efficient Forefront” and noted that the Superdome “features more than 26,000 LED lights” that conserve energy.
Other conservative commentators, including Fox News, Michelle Malkin, and the American Thinker blog, quickly jumped on the “see, efficiency is a big joke!” bandwagon. Nevermind, of course, that the LEDS touted by the government are on the outside of the building, where the lights were working just fine throughout the power outage. Wouldn’t want to let the facts get in the way of a cheap and easy attack on energy conservation. (The “Thinker” even acknowledged that efficiency measures probably had nothing to do with the blackout, but decided to take a swipe at them anyway.)
At this point, it’s still unclear exactly what did cause the outage. The utility company and dome managers blamed an “abnormality in the system,” which doesn’t shed much light. And the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that electricians were working on the system late last year, in an effort to have it ready for the big game.
Certainly there will be a lot more scrutiny, and advocates for upgrading the nation’s infrastructure see an opportunity to urge lawmakers to finally do something about protecting our power sources. As Paul Bledsoe, an independent consultant and former Clinton White House aide, told Politico:
It’s possible that such an embarrassing episode during America’s most iconic cultural event, in front of the whole world, will prompt the Congress to get serious about upgrading the U.S. grid and electrical transmission system.
Sure, power outages that plunged millions into darkness after disasters like Superstorm Sandy have failed to get lawmakers’ attention, but this is the Super Bowl! Interfere with America’s true national pastime, and I expect Congressional hearings to be convened before the Ravens’ plane touches down in Baltimore. (Maybe someone will call Ray Lewis as a witness. We understand he has experience with that sort of thing.)
The Superdome’s electrical system certainly should have been state of the art, and other stadiums have used smart-grid technology to cut down on power problems. But most of America’s aging power grid is, as new Secretary of State John Kerry observed almost a decade ago: “outdated, overworked, and vulnerable both to serious malfunctions ... and, even more disturbing, to a terrorist attack.” Kerry reiterated his concerns about the grid during his recent confirmation hearings, calling the threat of cyberattacks the 21st-century equivalent of nuclear weapons. Legislation that would upgrade and protect the grid (check out this piece in last month’s Popular Science explaining how to do it) has been consistently blocked by conservatives in Congress, who say it would cost too much for corporations to comply with the safety and security requirements.
Although it's true that it wouldn't be cheap (Brad Plumer points to a study estimating that a nationwide smart grid would cost $476 billion over the next 20 years), an upgrade would nevertheless provide trillions of dollars in benefits -- including, perhaps, football fans never having to sit through a blackout again. Unless we’d all prefer to sit around and poke fun of LEDs the next time the lights go out.
Image: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert