On a sweltering afternoon in August, 2003, a blackout in Ohio cascaded across the northeast and knocked out power for 50 million people. Official inquiries blamed it on "overgrown trees," but a National Journal cover story suspected that hackers "working on behalf of the Chinese government and military" could have been responsible.
Whatever the cause, it was an embarrassment. Former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson called the United States "a superpower with a third-world electricity grid." President Bush pledged to "modernize our electric delivery system ... for economic security ... and for national security."
Seven years later, policymakers and utility companies haven't done much. The Obama administration allocated $3.4 billion in stimulus funds for "modernizing the power grid." But this week, as temperatures cracked triple digits, power outages hit towns from Alexandria to Boston.
Of course, the grid is a "complex network of independently owned and operated power plants and transmission lines," but isn't this important enough for our economic and national security that we develop a stronger and smarter grid? This map from NPR shows our current haphazard grid, plus a proposal for new wind energy lines.