Winter storms put the US power grid to the test. It failed.

“Two-thirds of the US population faced snowstorms, high winds, or frigid winter weather over the Christmas holiday weekend, leading to at least 52 deaths and pushing the electricity grid to the brink of failure. And in many instances, it did. At its peak on Christmas, an estimated 1.7 million businesses and homes faced power outages.
It was the coldest Christmas in recent memory, and that meant a predictable surge in heating demand as temperatures dropped. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides power for 10 million people, for instance, said demand was running nearly 35 percent higher than on a typical winter day.

In many states, utilities and grid operators only narrowly averted greater disaster by asking customers to conserve their energy or prepare for rolling blackouts (when a utility voluntarily but temporarily shuts down electrical power to avoid the entire system shutting down). Some of the largest operators, including Tennessee Valley Authority and Duke Energy, used rolling blackouts throughout the weekend. Others, like National Grid, experienced some outages and asked some consumers to reduce gas usage. Texas also barely got through the emergency. On Friday, the US Department of Energy permitted the state to ignore environmental emissions standards to keep the power on.

One major transmission company that regulators thought would be well-prepared for the winter storm was caught off-guard: PJM Interconnection, which serves 65 million people in 13 eastern states, faced triple the power plant outages than it expected.

Officials probably could have met the higher demand if not for another predictable event that overwhelmed the system. Because of the extreme conditions, coal and gas plants and pipelines froze up too, taking them out of commission to deliver energy in areas that run mostly on gas.

The events over Christmas show how utilities and regulators continue to overestimate the reliability of fossil fuels to deliver power in a winter storm.”

“It wasn’t that the country didn’t have enough gas to go around to meet the high demand. There was plenty of gas, but the infrastructure proved vulnerable to the extreme weather. Enough wells and pipes were frozen or broken to bring the grid to its brink.”

We have a genuine fusion energy breakthrough

“Researchers at the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California, home of the world’s most powerful laser, announced on Tuesday that they crossed the critical threshold in their pursuit of fusion power: getting more energy out of the reaction than they put in.
This is 1) a massive scientific advancement, and 2) still a long, long (long) way off from harnessing fusion, the reaction that powers the sun, as a viable source of abundant clean energy. On December 5, the team fired 192 laser beams at a tiny fuel pellet, producing slightly more energy than the lasers put in, “about 2 megajoules in, about 3 megajoules out,” said Marvin Adams, deputy administrator for defense programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration, at a press conference Tuesday.

To make fusion something that could actually produce electricity for the power grid, it can’t just inch over the ignition finish line; it has to blow past it. This announcement is an important incremental advance, but the breakthrough doesn’t go far enough to be of practical use. Because NIF itself is a research laboratory, its technology is not intended to produce power. So designing a fusion reactor to harness this new approach will be its own engineering challenge.”

Consumers, not corporations, saved the power grid. What else can we do?

“when added up, thousands of small actions, like switching off lights during a heat wave, buying efficient appliances, or voting for politicians who will act on climate change, can become a larger force than what governments and businesses can muster on their own. Put another way, a comprehensive approach to climate change demands actions, both large and small.
“It’s a mistake to only focus on governments and big companies,” said Paul Burger, head of the sustainability research group at the University of Basel, who studies consumer decisions on energy. “It’s also a mistake to only focus on individuals.””

How the Western drought is pushing the power grid to the brink

“It takes a lot of water to make power.

From spinning turbines to hydraulic fracturing to refining fuel, the flow of water is critical to the flow of electrons and heat. About 40 percent of water withdrawals — water taken out of groundwater or surface sources — in the United States go toward energy production. The large majority of that share is used to cool power plants. In turn, it requires energy to extract, purify, transport, and deliver water.

So when temperatures rise and water levels drop, the energy sector gets squeezed hard. The consequences of water shortages are playing out now in swaths of the American West, where an expansive, decades-long drought is forcing drastic cuts in hydroelectric power generation. At the same time, exceptional heat has pushed energy demand to record highs. As the climate changes, these stresses will mount.

The United Nations Environment Programme warned..that if drought conditions persist, the two largest hydroelectric reservoirs in the US — Lake Mead and Lake Powell —could eventually reach “dead pool status,” where water levels fall too low to flow downstream. Lake Mead fuels the Hoover Dam, which has a power capacity topping 2,000 megawatts while Lake Powell drives generators that peak at 1,300 megawatts at the Glen Canyon Dam.”

Ron DeSantis Oversteps His Authority by Suspending Tampa’s Elected Prosecutor

“As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis continues his culture war campaign against abortion providers and members of the LGBT community, prosecutors who choose to defy the governor’s edicts may soon find themselves out of a job.
Last Thursday, DeSantis signed an executive order suspending Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, a progressive prosecutor who had previously pledged his office would not prosecute women seeking abortions or pursue criminal charges against those pursuing gender-affirming health care. “State Attorneys have a duty to prosecute crimes as defined in Florida law, not to pick and choose which laws to enforce based on his personal agenda,” DeSantis said in a statement.

Warren was first elected in 2016, defeating a longtime Republican incumbent with the support of liberal donor George Soros. Despite clashing with law enforcement over his refusal to prosecute minor offenses, Warren was reelected in 2020. Warren has said he will fight the governor’s suspension in court.

Article 4, Section 7 of the Florida Constitution allows the governor to suspend local officials for “malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony” and to appoint a temporary successor. The Florida Senate must approve a permanent removal from office and confirm the governor’s replacement appointments.

Previous governors have reserved that power for extreme cases of incompetence and malfeasance. In the last weeks of his governorship, then-Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, suspended Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, a Democrat, after her office came under fire for its mismanagement of the 2018 midterm elections.

Snipes was the second consecutive Broward elections chief to receive a pink slip from Tallahassee; her predecessor, Miriam Oliphant, had been suspended by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in September 2003 after a task force report investigating her disastrous handling of the 2002 elections* revealed countless administrative failures in the county elections office, including hundreds of uncounted ballots found in filing cabinets and a gravely understaffed office. Neighboring Palm Beach County also saw their elections supervisor, Susan Bucher, receive the boot in January 2019, this time from DeSantis. Snipes and Bucher both resigned from their positions.

DeSantis also suspended embattled Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel early in his tenure, after an investigation into the 2018 Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting found Israel and the Broward Sheriff’s Office responded to the massacre with “incompetence” and “negligence.” He then appointed Coral Springs Sergeant Gregory Tony as Israel’s replacement. The Florida Senate officially removed Israel from office in October 2019.

However, suspending a prosecutor for using their discretion sets a troubling precedent. Many prosecutors across the U.S., including federal prosecutors, prioritize their resources to go after offenders who pose a threat to public safety and civil society. It is simply not possible for prosecutors to devote equal resources to every type of offense.

Even when prosecutors adopt policies that seem political, the governor has less extreme tools for making sure that justice is done. When former Orange-Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala, a Democrat now running for state attorney general, announced that her office would no longer pursue the death penalty, Gov. Scott reassigned 30 murder cases to a different State Attorney, prompting Ayala to sue.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that Scott’s decision to reassign cases from Ayala’s office was a legitimate use of the governor’s powers. “The executive orders reassigning the death-penalty eligible cases in the Ninth Circuit to King fall well ‘within the bounds’ of the Governor’s ‘broad authority,'” the majority opinion explained. DeSantis himself used that same ruling to reassign homicide cases from Ayala’s office in 2020. However, neither governor suspended or removed her from her position.

What’s more, DeSantis has declined to use his executive authority to suspend sheriffs who refused to enforce gun restrictions. Meanwhile, DeSantis has allowed state education officials to ignore federal anti-discrimination laws designed to protect LGBT students and teachers in Florida public schools.

Many lawmakers have expressed concerns that the suspension encroaches on the separation of powers between the governor and local governments in the state, something they see as contradicting DeSantis’ messaging advertising his vision of a “free Florida.”

“Removing a duly elected official should be based on egregious actions—not political statements,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor tweeted in response to the governor’s executive order. Like many Democrats in the state, she believes that the governor is thwarting the will of voters in her city by suspending Warren. “In a free state, voters should choose their elected officials.””

The Ukraine war shows the limits of US power

“When the Cold War ended in the ’90s, the United States possessed unrivaled economic and military power. Scholar Francis Fukuyama claimed the “End of History” and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright asserted the centrality of American exceptionalism in her coinage, “the indispensable nation.”

Some argue that that unipolar moment was overstated. “Look, the Americans suffered from hubris after the end of the Soviet Union,” said Joseph Nye, a Harvard professor who has written widely about American power. “The unipolar moment, I think, was always illusory.”

At the end of the Cold War, the US did continue to hold itself out as the guarantor of security. “The United States appointed itself as responsible for peace, security, and democracy in Europe,” Stephen Wertheim, a historian of US foreign policy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told me. In response to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the United States, through NATO, took military action against Serbia. The intervention was relatively limited, and the outcome of it was a successful projection of US might.

But that unilateral moment, real or imagined, was short-lived.

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, were not what challenged that global supremacy, argues Wertheim. Rather, it was the 20 disastrous years of overreach in America’s response. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan exposed the limits of US power.”

Satellite images show China built mock-ups of U.S. warships

“China’s massive military upgrade has emphasized countering the U.S. and other countries’ naval forces.

That includes the development of land, sea and air-launched missiles to repel and possibly sink opposing vessels, expressed most emphatically by the land-based DF-21D ballistic missile known as the “carrier killer.””

“The Pentagon..issued a report saying China is expanding its nuclear force much faster than U.S. officials predicted just a year ago. That appears designed to enable Beijing to match or surpass U.S. global power by midcentury, the report said.”

“China’s test of a hypersonic weapon capable of partially orbiting Earth before reentering the atmosphere and gliding on a maneuverable path to its target also surprised top U.S. military leaders. Beijing insisted it was testing a reusable space vehicle, not a missile, but the weapon system’s design is meant to evade U.S. missile defenses.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the test was “very close” to being a “Sputnik moment,” akin to the 1957 launching by the Soviet Union of the world’s first space satellite, which fed fears the United States had fallen behind technologically.”

The US power grid isn’t ready for climate change

“It’s abundantly clear that the power grid in the United States is not ready for the effects of climate change, including the extreme weather events that come with it. After all, climate change isn’t just increasing the demand for energy to keep people cool or warm amid heat waves and winter storms. It’s also damaging the grid itself. The country is now in a race against time to shift its energy supply toward renewable sources, like wind and solar, while also needing more and more electricity to do everything from powering more air conditioning to boosting the number of EVs on the road.”

The Democrats Need a Reality Check

“But the FDR and LBJ examples show conclusively why visions of a transformational Biden agenda are so hard to turn into reality. In 1933, FDR had won a huge popular and electoral landslide, after which he had a three-to-one Democratic majority in the House and a 59-vote majority in the Senate. Similarly, LBJ in 1964 had won a massive popular and electoral vote landslide, along with a Senate with 69 Democrats and a House with 295. Last November, on the other hand, only 42,000 votes in three key states kept Trump from winning re-election. Democrats’ losses in the House whittled their margin down to mid-single digits. The Senate is 50-50.

Further, both Roosevelt and Johnson had crucial Republican allies. In the 1930’s, GOP Senators Robert LaFollette and Frank Norris were ardent advocates for organized labor. In the ‘60s, Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen gave LBJ crucial help in getting his civil rights agenda passed. When Medicare became law in 1965, it passed with 70 Republican votes in the House and 13 GOP votes in the Senate. In today’s Washington, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell have been successfully working to keep Republican support for Biden’ policies at precisely zero.”

“The threats to a free and fair election that have emerged since last November are real—and require nothing more than the willingness of state legislators to use and abuse the existing tools of government. Arizona, whose two new voting rules were just validated by the Supreme Court, also took the power to litigate election laws away from the (Democratic) Secretary of State and gave the power to the (Republican) Attorney General. In at least 8 states, Republicans are advancing legislation that would take power away from local or county boards. Many more states are moving to make voting harder. It might be anti-democratic, but it falls well within the rules.

Also within the rules: How McConnell helped build a federal bench almost certain to ratify the power of those legislatures to pass laws far more restrictive than the Arizona rules upheld last week. He creatively eviscerated Senate norms to keep Merrick Garland off the Supreme Court and hand Donald Trump an astonishing three nominations in a single term. And he’s recently suggested that, should a Supreme Court vacancy open, he’d block even consideration of a Biden nominee if the Republicans take the Senate back in 2022. This is abnormal, anti-democratic and a cynical abuse of power—but it’s legal within the existing rules.”