On Sept. 8, 2011, an Arizona Public Service field technician was sent out to a North Gila, Ariz., substation to switch a capacitor bank -- a routine job the technician had performed a dozen or so times before.
This time, however, he missed a step in the process, which knocked out the entire 500-kilovolt transmission line running through the substation.
Under normal circumstances, this wouldn't be a big deal. With a solid infrastructure operating within standard guidelines, this should have resulted in a brief, isolated outage.
But in our overstressed and under-maintained grid, that single transmission line was all that connected the region. Losing it sent a cascade of outages down the system, blacking out enormous swathes of Arizona, Mexico and Southern California, including all of San Diego and its 1.5 million customers.
| Andrew Herrmann: |
"By making investments, you are actually saving money."
In total, the outage left about 2.7 million customers without power -- the second-most significant outage of the year next to the one resulting from Hurricane Irene.
For the hundreds of manufacturers scattered throughout the region, the outage was costly. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, these kinds of power failures cost companies between $20,000 and $2 million.
This was not a rare occurrence. In 2011, California led the country in outages with 371 -- more than double that of second place New York.
Such events confound an already-difficult environment for manufacturers trying to stay ahead in the United States today. Maintaining a profitable, competitive business with an infrastructure this shaky is increasingly difficult, and manufacturers are left largely unarmed in the fight to bring in the kind of investments necessary to change it.
So the question must be asked: Can the United States revitalize its infrastructure to provide manufacturers and businesses a competitive environment in which to operate and prosper?