US heatwave kills 50 and threatens eastern harvest
Friday 30 July 1999
While local officials dispense advice about how the elderly and poor can try to keep cool and some districts open refuges in empty schools, the air-conditioned middle classes suddenly find themselves vulnerable, too.
Power companies are reducing the voltage, pleading with consumers to turn down coolers, and warning that the grid is becoming dangerously overloaded. As a result, the temperature is rising fast in the political arena as well and "energy deregulation", so long a background issue, is flaring up again.
The first harbinger of trouble was an 18-hour power cut three weeks ago in Upper Manhattan. Rich and poor alike found themselves without cool or light. Columbia University lost priceless laboratory experiments. Although he was not directly at fault, the outage was seen as a rare black mark against Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for administrative efficiency.
The Manhattan power cut has not been repeated, but neighbouring New Jersey has been subject to "rolling" power cuts. And the more that is known about these north-eastern power outages, the less they seem to derive from abnormal temperatures.
The preliminary inquest on the Manhattan cut showed that power cables in that part of the grid have been the least reliable in the Consolidated Edison company's system for years. It also showed that the surplus capacity the company is supposed to maintain for just such eventualities had been whittled down far below the required level.
From across the country came similar reports of repairs not made, of old, coal-burning power stations being put back into service - additional air pollution notwithstanding - of a generating capacity that has actually declined in the last five years in the face of growing demand. The reason? The impending deregulation of the energy industry across the US.
Across America the big political divide is not whether energy should be deregulated, but how. Until the "rules of the road" are finalised and legislated, says Dan Lashof of the watchdog Natural Resources Defence Council, power companies will be unwilling to invest in new plant. Investors want to know where the best tax breaks will be before committing their money; and existing power companies want to shape the new structures. Meanwhile the bills wind their tortuous way through Congressional committees.
So long as White House air conditioners continue to whirr, President Clinton - who would like deregulation to be an accomplishment of his second term - can afford to sit back and let the political temperature rise. His adviser on deregulation, Richard Glick, said this week almost cheerfully: "We're going to see a couple of tough summers." The hope seems to be that the worse things get, the more pressure will mount on Congress to legislate.
- 1 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 2 50 books for students to read this summer: From Ernest Hemingway to Gillian Flynn
- 3 McDonald’s removes chicken nuggets from the menu in Hong Kong amid major food scare
- 4 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 5 Joey Barton and Yossi Benayoun become involved in Twitter row over Israel-Gaza conflict
Israel-Gaza conflict: Israeli targeting policy under scrutiny after shellfire hits a mother and child, a school full of refugees and a doctor’s home
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich claims Noel Gallagher helped him kick his cocaine addiction
Peaches Geldof: Her final day – and her fatal decision
Iraq crisis: Isis orders Mosul shop keepers to cover mannequins
Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...
£28000 - £33000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive (Digital Marketi...
£400 - £401 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SSIS Administrat...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...