How About Some Infrastructure Spending?

The Great Southern California blackout was apparently caused by an electrical grid that collapsed after a single series capacitor was taken offline in Yuma, Arizona, causing a cascading series of failures:

The failure of a single piece of equipment in Yuma, Ariz., ignited a massive blackout that left more than 4 million people without power, baffling utility officials and highlighting the vulnerability of the U.S. electrical grid.

Authorities in Arizona said Friday that safeguards built into the system should have prevented the breakdown at a Yuma substation from cascading across southern Arizona and into California and northern Mexico. They didn’t, and the resulting instability led to the sudden shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear power plant, cutting off power to a large swath of Southern California.

….”We’re struggling,” said Daniel Froetscher, vice president of energy delivery for APS, the largest electricity provider in Arizona. “We have to take a hard look at the system design and figure out exactly what happened….We don’t know the underlying causes.”

The proximate cause remains unknown, but I’m going to take a guess and say that the ultimate cause is an aging electrical grid that’s increasingly unable to handle big loads and small failures. This problem is hardly unique to the United States (Europe has suffered half a dozen blackouts as big as Thursday’s in the past decade), but that’s no reason to be complacent about it. If only we could pony up lots of cheap money to do something about this. But from where? It would have to be, oh, I don’t know, some kind of nationwide infrastructure bank or something, sponsored by some entity that can issue long-term bonds practically for free.

Just a pipe dream, I guess. Nothing like that exists. Luckily I have plenty of spare battery-operated lanterns around.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.