John Oliver on Sunday night looked at how vulnerable the U.S. power grid is as aging infrastructure meets increased demand and extreme weather events caused by climate change.
Then, there are the unusual problems, like the 600+ power outages caused by squirrels, and hundreds more created by birds, balloons, raccoons, snakes and slugs.
“Let me just quickly say here: Kudos, slugs,” Oliver said. “Out of everything on that list, you are honestly the ones that I underestimated.”
The nation’s power grid isn’t a single grid but three of them: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection and a third in Texas.
“Basically, like Major League Baseball,” Oliver said. “In that there are two dominant groups, and then assholes in Texas who’d rather make up their own rules.”
All three grids share some common problems, starting with the fact that much of the infrastructure is well beyond its expected lifespan.
“We’ve got a power grid built in the 20th century that is not equipped to deal with the needs and stresses of the 21st,” he pointed out.
Oliver said some estimates suggest it’ll cost $2.5 trillion over the next decade to upgrade and modernize the decaying transmission system and prevent situations like the winter tragedy in Texas or wildfires in California. But the infrastructure bill that passed the House last week contained just $65 billion for the task.
Oliver concluded with a vivid demonstration of how quickly something as seemingly innocent as balloons could cut everyone’s power: