Lessons From the Blackout of 2003 A Study on Alternative Electric Demand Structures

On Thursday, August 14, 2003, New York City experienced a blackout of major proportions, part of an event that affected eight states and part of Canada as well. The Cooperative Coalition to Prevent Blackouts (CCPB), and the Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives and Condominiums (FNYHC) - one of the coalition's founding members - has been warning the various state and federal agencies for years that an event such as this was bound to happen. The mystery of why it happened and who is to blame is still under investigation, but it appears a single mishap paralyzed the Northeast, plunging more than 50 million people into darkness, stranding residents and commuters, shutting down public transportation, and costing an estimated billions of dollars in lost business and spoiled provisions.

It may take weeks before federal investigators determine the cause of the massive blackout, but officials believe that it started somewhere in the Midwest when transmission problems occurred within the electrical power grid in Ohio, and caused a cascading effect that shut down much of New York and the entire Northeast and Canada from Connecticut to Michigan and kept most New Yorkers in the dark for some 29 hours.

Since its inception, the coalition has been trying to convince the powers that control New York State's electrical supply - the Independent Systems Operator (ISO), the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) - that conservation and electrical behavior modification is the only course to prevent more occurrences like the August 14th blackout.

The CCPB is headed by Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, president of the HDFC. Other members include Peter Funk, former president of the board of 322 Central Park West, and Don West, director of Seward Park Houses. The coalition utilizes the consulting expertise of Lewis Kwit of Energy Investment Systems (EIS).

Submetering Works for Savings

Currently, the coalition is trying to overcome a number of roadblocks that stand in the way of consumer conservation efforts. It is a well-established fact that the submetering of electricity can conserve electricity, but in a co-op under current PSC rules, shareholder approval is required to install individual unit meters. I have been to many informational shareholder meetings on the topic that are derailed by a few loud, uninformed shareholders who overtake the meeting and force the board to withdraw the proposal. If you remove the politics and let a duly elected, educated board decide the community's fate, nine out of ten times they'll go with the submetering proposal, because it just makes sense.


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