One of the dullest words in the political lexicon: infrastructure.
But maybe not now, as millions have been freezing and without power during winter storms across the nation.
Suddenly, the vast infrastructure of electricity generation and transmission is a hot-button political issue.
That’s as true in Louisiana as everywhere else.
Louisiana’s utility regulators are looking closely at the problems revealed by the Great Freeze of 2021. Rolling blackouts were required from Minnesota to Texas.
One of the concerns is that there may have been price-gouging by natural gas suppliers, according to some members of the Public Service Commission.
Natural gas prices are not regulated as in decades past but have been very low historically in recent years. Suddenly, America’s increasing reliance on natural gas — a cleaner source of energy than coal — was called into question. Certainly, the freeze should not have been a chance to exploit consumers.
“That’s a real problem for me,” said Eric Skrmetta, chairman of the PSC. The commissioners plan to meet next week to hear from the utility officials.
The American Gas Association said in a release that a record amount of natural gas was delivered across the United States on Sunday and Monday. But there were problems, as was probably inevitable in what we in Louisiana call a Katrina-like event.
Heating is more energy-consuming than air conditioning and not only Louisiana was affected. But our friends across the Sabine River in Texas had it much worse, as Texas is on a separate electrical grid; Louisiana is part of a multistate consortium that oversees power transmission.
Natural gas has been cheap and abundant, in large part because of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling techniques in the oil fields. It is so abundant that Louisiana is a center for export of liquefied natural gas.
What this past week’s events show is not that natural gas is a loser for America’s energy needs. It is a vital part of the mix for many years to come. But it shows that deficiencies in the transmission of power ought to be addressed.
What we have works during days when the temperatures are more normal, but how efficiently? How much energy leaks out of transmission lines? Do electricity markets serve us well? Experts have warned for years that the nation’s power grid requires a vast overhaul, costing in the trillions of dollars. Weatherization is needed in millions of homes, particularly older housing in Louisiana.
When President Joe Biden talks about infrastructure, he should not mean just highways and bridges but also an improved power grid that is more efficient and suitable for a 21st century economy.
If our eyes start to glaze over in that discussion, just remember how cold it got at Mardi Gras.