Category Archives: infrastructure concerns

An End Run Around Grover Norquist

Wealthy men built our railroads. They didn’t do it out of the kindness of their hearts. They did it from necessity. They were making products to sell and mining coal and drilling for oil and they needed an efficient way to get their goods to the population centers where people would buy and use them. These men did not invent railroads – they had already been invented and were in limited use. But these men raced to build the railroads (with slave and/or very cheap labor) once they realized how effective the railroads would be as product movers. They competed with each other to try to get a monopoly on certain routes; a monopoly which might drive competitors out of business.

Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Carnegie were three of the competitors we remember best and these men, already wealthy, became very wealthy indeed in the process of creating and improving on this piece of American infrastructure.

All of this history has implications for the present. If we cannot, after heroic attempts, get the GOP to agree to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, maybe we can get them to contribute monies to an infrastructure fund to bring us a futuristic transport apparatus that can flexibly accommodate high speed rail and cars that drive themselves, but require electricity along with oil and gas. Of course they are already richer than Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Carnegie so they need reasons to take on this huge project. Well, it might help bring business back to America, it would take a big expense out of the federal budget, in the long run it would grow their personal wealth,  it would give them something meaningful to accomplish, and they would become the “new philanthropists”. Since the wealthy wouldn’t have as much free time as they do now, it might also make vacations exciting to them again.

They could get rid of all our crazy elevated super-highways , clover leafs, and double clover leafs that cut up our cities. They could build by-passes around our cities with parking lots at the exits where public transport to the city center would be provided. We would not use our vehicles in cities at all, only small electric public vehicles (taxis).


New lanes could be added to highways for cars that drive themselves. Newly updated service areas that recharge electric cars quickly, in addition to providing fossil fuels, would be built. High speed rail would complement all the highways improvements. Perhaps there could be considerations for accommodations that could help travelers at places which frequently experience extreme weather also.   

You guys have already shown that you have skills to make money or at least hold on to money, so I am sure you could form, fund, and manage a company or group that could take this on. Although it might require a huge infusion of your cash to begin with I’m sure you could figure out ways it could benefit your bottom line in the end. And we wouldn’t have to raise taxes so we would get around that pledge you all made to Grover Norquist. It’s a win-win strategy. “If you build it they will come.”

Protecting the Grid

Recently we were warned once again about possible terrorist attacks on the grid and the internet. Shutting off our electricity in almost any season would be uncomfortable and difficult but with winter coming it could be deadly. Given that our grid has become increasingly centralized in interdependent districts which, if disabled would affect huge areas of the United States, the possibility of outages caused by hacking or similar tactics is intimidating and could have very serious outcomes. Similarly disruptions to the internet, on which we have grown increasingly dependent, would be equally daunting.

The dangers are spelled out in an article entitled DOD official:  Vulnerability of U. S. electrical grid is a dire concern, by Dan Merica.

Speaking candidly at the Aspen Security Forum, one defense department official expressed great concern about the possibility of a terrorist attack on the U.S. electric grid that would cause a “long term, large scale outage.”
Paul Stockton, assistant secretary for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs at the Department of Defense, said such an attack would affect critical defense infrastructure at home and abroad – a thought that Stockton said was keeping him up at night.
“The DOD depends on infrastructure in order to be able to operate abroad. And to make those operations function, we depend on the electric grid,” Stockton said.
The concern, Stockton continued, was that America’s adversaries would avoid attacking “the pointy end of the spear,” meaning combat troops, and would instead look for homeland, possibly non-military, targets.
“Our adversaries, state and non-state, are not stupid. They are clever and adaptive,” Stockton said. “There is a risk that they will adopt a profoundly asymmetric strategy, reach around and attack us here at home, the critical infrastructure that is not owned by the Department of Defense.”
But Stockton’s concerns were not solely limited to terrorist attacks. Other concerning scenarios, said the assistant secretary, include geomagnetic disturbances, earthquakes and other natural disasters that could take down the grid.
According to Stockton, a recurrence of a massive earthquake, like the New Madrid earthquake of 1812, “would cause a power outage for weeks to months across a multi-state area, rolling blackouts in the East Coast…”
What are our options? How do we defend ourselves against cyberattacks that would be designed to disrupt the American economy and could possibly be quite effective in accomplishing such a goal?  Decentralization might be one obvious choice. Divide the large grid districts into the smaller districts we used to have. This would make it difficult, however, to direct power to where it was most needed. So if giving up huge grid control centers is not desirable then we need some other solution. So we need an interconnected grid that operates like a parallel circuit rather than a series circuit, in other words, it is connected but also separate. And of course, we might be able to section off parts of the internet, but this also seems counterproductive to me, unless there is a way to minimize the separations for legitimate users.

Discussions for making a smart grid are not designed to protect the grid from terrorist attacks but they are designed to make the grid easier to maintain. Using smart grid methods is problematic because there are privacy issues. If there is a meter that can communicate to the grid from inside our homes without being read by a physical person, people worry that other info could also be gathered in this manner without our knowledge. The following explanation is from the web site:

Smart grid” generally refers to a class of technology people are using to bring utility electricity delivery systems into the 21st century, using computer-based remote control and automation. These systems are made possible by two-way communication technology and computer processing that has been used for decades in other industries. They are beginning to be used on electricity networks, from the power plants and wind farms all the way to the consumers of electricity in homes and businesses. They offer many benefits to utilities and consumers — mostly seen in big improvements in energy efficiency on the electricity grid and in the energy users’ homes and offices.
For a century, utility companies have had to send workers out to gather much of the data needed to provide electricity. The workers read meters, look for broken equipment and measure voltage, for example. Most of the devices utilities use to deliver electricity have yet to be automated and computerized. Now, many options and products are being made available to the electricity industry to modernize it.
The “grid” amounts to the networks that carry electricity from the plants where it is generated to consumers. The grid includes wires, substations, transformers, switches and much more.
Much in the way that a “smart” phone these days means a phone with a computer in it, smart grid means “computerizing” the electric utility grid. It includes adding two-way digital communication technology to devices associated with the grid. Each device on the network can be given sensors to gather data (power meters, voltage sensors, fault detectors, etc.), plus two-way digital communication between the device in the field and the utility’s network operations center. A key feature of the smart grid is automation technology that lets the utility adjust and control each individual device or millions of devices from a central location.
Wikipedia summarizes the arguments for decentralizing the grid into Micro grids:

Decentralization of the power transmission distribution system is vital to the success and reliability of this system. Currently the system is reliant upon relatively few generation stations. This makes current systems susceptible to impact from failures not within said area. Micro grids would have local power generation, and allow smaller grid areas to be separated from the rest of the grid if a failure were to occur. Furthermore, micro grid systems could help power each other if needed. Generation within a micro grid could be a downsized industrial generator or several smaller systems such as photo-voltaic systems, or wind generation. When combined with Smart Grid technology, electricity could be better controlled and distributed, and more efficient.
These would be great areas on which enterprising young internet wizards could focus their attentions. Designing useful national security approaches for both our electrical grid and for any computer sites that need to be absolutely “unhackable” would be worth the offer of a government prize or prizes to the winning creator or team of creators. However, the real problem, besides a need for someone to create the technology, would be finding the money to implement the plan once it is designed. Money, in fact, will be a consistent litany keeping us from the future we need to build and the availability of funds will rely on rebuilding our economy.