The recession is here. Some say it arrived in August 2007. All admit that it is causing job losses by the tens of thousands weekly. Suggestions range from public works projects, particularly highway bridges, to other areas of the nation's infrastructure.
Few remember the days of the Great Depression, when public works projects were created. One such project was the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Before long, cartoonists created a caricature of a man leaning on a shovel and the new meaning of WPA became: "We poke along."
The program lacked proper supervision, although it did spawn the successful project called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
The nation's wonderful state and national parks are a tribute to the CCC. In Yellowstone, for example, the CCC built the majority of the early visitor centers, campgrounds, and roads. One other credit to CCC was the fact that the organization was created along military lines, with the participants in uniform and subject to military discipline. Many went directly into military service at the beginning of World War II, receiving immediate promotions as noncommissioned officers.
In 1964, a less successful organization known as the Jobs Corps was formed. The Jobs Corps was the central program of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty. Its purpose was to attract eligible young people, teach them the skills they need to become employable and independent, and place them in meaningful jobs or further education. Like many programs planned and activated in the War on Poverty, the Jobs Corps was not recognized as a great success, but it still exists.
Most of the failures of previous programs designed to provide mass employment are attributable to the fact that they didn’t seem to have a central purpose, other than the earlier programs CCC developed.
However, a central purpose can be developed today for the balance of the $700-billion bailout fund languishing on the sidelines. It could be used to repair and upgrade America's electrical power distribution system, which needs serious attention. This use could benefit all Americans.
Although the system is functioning much better since the nation’s biggest blackout in history on Aug. 14, 2003, weaknesses appear during peak loads, particularly during extremely hot weather.
The nation has 3,100 electric utilities, according to the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Relationship.
Control of these utilities covers a spectrum of ownership and management. Stockholder-owned utilities account for 213 of the total and serve 73 percent of the country's customers. Utilities run by state and local governments account for 2,000 of the electric companies and provide service for 15 percent of the customers. Service for the balance of electricity comes from 930 cooperatives. The nation’s utility companies operate about 10,000 individual power plants.
The country's power transmission grid is only as strong as its weakest link.
What better use for the balance of the bailout fund could there be than a project to provide jobs for possibly hundreds of thousands to revamp and upgrade the entire electrical transmission and distribution system in the country?
“Because of the expected near-term retirement of many aging power plants in the existing fleet, growth of the information economy, economic growth and the forecasted growth of electricity demand, America faces a significant need for new power generation,” a DOE report says.
“In summary, the North American world class electric system is facing several serious challenges. Major questions exist about its ability to continue providing citizens and businesses with relatively clean, reliable and affordable energy services,” the report says. “The recent downturn in the economy masks areas of grid congestion in numerous locations across America. These bottlenecks could interfere with regional economic development. Unless substantial amounts of capital are invested over the next several decades in new generation, transmission and distribution facilities, service quality will degrade and costs will go up.”
Apparently overlooked in the studies is the necessity of bringing alternate energy production generation to market. Wind energy, for example, will be developed in the areas where wind corridors exist.
These corridors are not necessarily located conveniently in areas bordering on large population centers. The principal wind corridors with winds strong enough to sustain electricity generation are in the Great Plains area, over elevated regions of North Dakota and the High Plains of northwestern Montana.
These areas are not large population centers, so fairly long transmission lines would be required to bring the power to larger populated areas. The same would be be true of the desert regions of southwest New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California, where the radiant energy of the sun could be collected over many square miles.
Upgrading the nation’s power transmission grid could save from $25 billion to $180 billion lost annually in power outages.
E. Ralph Hostetter, a prominent businessman and agricultural publisher, also is a national and local award-winning columnist. He welcomes comments by e-mail sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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