London Power Cuts
August 29, 2003 1:45 AM   Subscribe

Anyone smell a conspiracy? London and the South East gets hit by a massive power cut in a similar way to New York and the surrounding areas. Complaints from authorities in both cities of "under-investment in the National Grid " and talk of "antiquated infrastructure" strangely mirror each other and it's odd that these two extremely rare events have happened so close together. Was this a deliberate test of our emergency infrastructures, terrorism or just plain coincidence?
posted by andyHollister (31 comments total)
What annoyed me the most was that this morning the District Line are using the power cuts (that happened well over 12 hours ago) as an excuse for their shoddy service.

I look forward to the day Ken takes over - he can't do any worse than the current team.
posted by ralawrence at 1:53 AM on August 29, 2003

Ken took over a couple of months ago....
posted by brettski at 1:58 AM on August 29, 2003

Ken is only notionally 'in charge' anyway. He has next to no power over the network. Genius bit of play from Number 10, that - Ken will get blamed for the horrors yet to come on the tube, yet there's nothing he can do about it.
posted by influx at 2:07 AM on August 29, 2003

Niagara Mohawk, a National Grid Company.
Interesting Taibbi article on the subject.
posted by talos at 2:18 AM on August 29, 2003

...and interestingly enough....BBC news mentioned this morning that the same companies were involved in supply of the power that got cut...

/me puts on the tinfoil helmet...
posted by mattr at 2:19 AM on August 29, 2003

Well firstly, the power cuts in the UK do not bear any comparison with those that took place in N.America. For them to do so would have required the entire UK grid to have gone down, not just parts of London and the SE.
Regarding the speculation about National Grid, the BBC were suggesting last night that the problem started on the distribution grids which are not owned by National Grid (they own the transmission grid, unfortunately many people do not realise the distinction, including Mayor Livingston if the quotes in the article are anything to go by). It may be best to wait for the investigation to come up with some results.

Long term there are likely to be issues with investment in the transmission infrastructure, and the UK regulator, Ofgem, is looking into how might new transmission charging might apply and might best address further development of national electricity policy goals. It is also worth noting that NGT, which runs the Transmission grid is on record as suggesting that there are likely to be occasions where there is not enough power available in the grid and that this will lead to further powercuts in the UK in the future. This is a problem with a regulatory system which does not incentivise enoug back-up power not a grid problem.
posted by biffa at 3:17 AM on August 29, 2003

I did hear this morning that the tube now takes its power from the grid. Until a couple of years ago they had their own power station (which I seem to remember failing a few years back bringing the tube to a halt)
posted by brettski at 3:46 AM on August 29, 2003

Be all that as it may, this is just another example of the special relationship between the UK and the US. Stay tuned.
What we need next is an actor (a professional one) to stand for leader of one of the major parties.
posted by donfactor at 4:27 AM on August 29, 2003

On Wednesday morning, the Krško nuclear power plant (on the border between Croatia and Slovenia) had a minor malfunction and shut down automatically for about 24 hours. Not sure if that belongs to this conspiracy or if it's just a coincidence. Probably the latter.
posted by Ljubljana at 4:39 AM on August 29, 2003

Do not attribute to malice what is adequately explained by incompetence.
posted by spazzm at 4:46 AM on August 29, 2003


but you see, the art of the conspiracy is to find a way to achive a goal in such a way that people will jump to the most obvious and erroneous conclusion...
posted by titboy at 4:59 AM on August 29, 2003

That may be so, titboy, but in my humble experience the incompetents far outnumber the downright malicious, so there's also the statistical likelihood to be considered.
posted by spazzm at 5:14 AM on August 29, 2003

What we need next is an actor (a professional one) to stand for leader of one of the major parties.

Mmm, is this close enough?
posted by Summer at 5:41 AM on August 29, 2003

What we need next is an actor (a professional one) to stand for leader of one of the major parties.

I nominate Hellen Mirren.
posted by widdershins at 9:52 AM on August 29, 2003

See...there I was, all ready to wear my tinfoil hat and start pointing fingers and declaring that Evil was Afoot! And then Biffa had to go an ruin it for me by being all rational and stuff.

Sheesh. A girl just can't have any fun these days.
posted by dejah420 at 9:55 AM on August 29, 2003

Well, IMO biff's use of the term " incentivise" completely voids his post, so Tinfoilhatise all you want, dejah420.
posted by signal at 10:00 AM on August 29, 2003

Now is a good time to start your subscription to Home Power Magazine
posted by lsd4all at 10:03 AM on August 29, 2003

That Bush trotted out the "we have a crumbling infrastructure that needs to be replaced, and the consumers will have to pay for it" argument so soon after the US blackout struck me as cynical and worrying. Seems like the power companies, having benefited from the profits they made from deregulation and diverting infrastructure investment to their shareholders, will now also be able to charge the punters to repair the costs of their negligence. Bah.
posted by carter at 10:05 AM on August 29, 2003

Be prepared for petroleum prices to go through the roof because of it.
posted by destro at 10:45 AM on August 29, 2003

Get with it Carter. Everybody knows its privatised profit and subsidized costs that are de rigeur in the Anglophone world. ^_*
posted by infowar at 10:46 AM on August 29, 2003

Actually, I wouldn't be suprised if it was just a ploy to get existing power plant regulations changed. Not sure if existing legislation is pending in the UK, but if it is, I'll be donning my tinfoil propeller beanie.
posted by einer at 11:57 AM on August 29, 2003

London Underground used to be supplied by their own power station at Lotts Road in Chelsea. However, the Government then turned over the contract to a private power company who switched it over to run off the normal distribution network and sold off Lotts Road at a huge mark-up to property developers to build luxury flats.
posted by kerplunk at 11:58 AM on August 29, 2003

Oops. Sorry.

*tries to remember where he left his medication*
posted by carter at 12:10 PM on August 29, 2003

There are some connections, albeit ideological rather than practical, between the America and London power cuts. America's passion for privatising utilities was borrowed from Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister. The theory was that privatised utilities would compete to sell their products (electricity, water etc) into the pool, resulting in lower prices for customers.

The reality was that many of the privatised companies sold off the assets, including laying off employees and shutting down stations, in order to maximise profits. Many of them also colluded in order to raise prices rather than compete to keep them low. At times when we really need them, for example in the summer when we need air conditioning and water, these companies hold customers hostage and push up the prices.

This isn't fantasy - it's been seen in action with California's electricity and with London's water, where a few years ago in famously rainy London we were told not to use hosepipes or face legal repercussions. Now in the UK, water companies are telling us they need to raise prices even further 'to invest'.

With specific regard to the London power cut, as kerplunk says, they sold off the Lotts Road power station which had kept the Underground going all the way through the Blitz. The theory was that they could get the electricity from the National Grid, but in practice yesterday it didn't work. There was nothing wrong with our existing system but they destroyed it for more profit. I would be astonished if it didn't turn out that the American power cuts have the same cause: stealing our national utilities and bleeding them dry.
posted by skylar at 12:21 PM on August 29, 2003

It rained today in London. Obviously the work of mad terrorists. I wouldn't be surprised if it rained in New York before long. Terrorists again, no doubt.
posted by mokey at 1:06 PM on August 29, 2003

As for the "coincidental" timing, my understanding is that it is currently late summer in both the UK and in the northeast US. Summer often puts a higher demand on the electrical grid, since everyone is running air conditioners at the same time, and air-conditioning is a pretty power-hungry technology (due to the right-wing Second Law of Thermodynamics, I expect). So if the power companies have been cutting their reliability margins, summer is a reasonable time to see the consequences.

I did some work on data visualization software for a local power utility a while ago, and it was really interesting to watch the way the load varied with temperature, time of day, and so forth.
posted by hattifattener at 1:31 PM on August 29, 2003

hattifattener: I thought it was coincidental because like New York this was a pretty damn big power cut of extremely rare proportions. The last time I remember anything like this was back in the 70s when the electricity authority went on strike. We're not that big on aircon here in London (not residentially anyway) and summer is pretty much finished here with the temperature dropping a good few degrees over the past weeks so surely that can't be to blame - I would think this sort of cut would happen more in the winter in London because we're definitely bigger on heating than aircon! Like New York, the electricity companies are blaming small localised faults for the cuts but why has this happened in both places at pretty much the same time? You're right when you say this sort of thing is more likely to happen in summer but that would be more pertinent in cities that have similar climates - London and New York have a good few degrees difference in temperature and a different humidity reading today for example (London is by no means as warm and humid as NY). So sorry guys, i'm still not convinced that there isn't something weird afoot here...
posted by andyHollister at 2:36 PM on August 29, 2003

I assumed that the power cut happened because it rained for 10 minutes. Such is the way in Britain.
posted by influx at 7:18 PM on August 29, 2003

Leaves on the power lines.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 4:52 PM on August 30, 2003

Actually, I wouldn't be suprised if it was just a ploy to get existing power plant regulations changed.

Don't really think this is the case in the UK, environmental regs are quite separate from power plant licensing in this sense. You may be able to make a good case that the regulations relating to trading of electricity in the UK aren't working effectively, most notably, the regs do not give any priority to security of supply, they only really address minimising costs to the consumer. Indeed this reason underlay why the government had to bail out British Energy last year.

signal: I can't help it, incentivise is the term they use in the literature - I've read it too many times, and there is no simple alternative.
posted by biffa at 6:19 AM on August 31, 2003

inpHilltr8r, too darn funny.
posted by dabitch at 7:54 AM on August 31, 2003

« Older And foldy's probably listening to Alicia Keys...   |   Monkey Dust Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments