We got together recently with some of the family for a quick lunch after church one Sunday. My brother-in-law, Wesley, had apparently had enough of seeing everyone on their phones during the meal, so he declared it a “No Cell Phone Event.” We all pulled our phones out and stacked them one on top of the other in the middle of the table. If only for an hour, we were going to go without our devices. And you know what? It was kind of nice.
Sure enough, however, as soon as we’d all been able to get some in-person face time, we all picked our phones back up, logged in, and checked to see what happened in the short time we’d been away. The reality is that’s the world we live in. It’s an increasingly connected world that relies on one thing above all else: electricity.
Whether we’re trying to keep our phones charged or the lights on, we need access to reliable and affordable electricity. For all the debates we have about new sources from which to harvest that power, however, one component is often times left out of the discussion: that is, our outdated electrical grid.
Energy executive Robert Catell told a group of city managers in 2010: “If Thomas Edison came back today, not only would he recognize our electricity system, he could probably fix it [when problems arise].” Clearly, it’s time for an upgrade.
Fortunately, South Dakota is moving ahead of the curve and upgrades are underway. Earlier this month, I joined a handful of other state leaders and members of Xcel Energy and Otter Tail Power Company to help break ground on the CapX2020 transmission line that will run between a new substation near Big Stone City and an existing substation by Brookings. For consumers, this ground breaking symbolizes the turning of a page to a new era of energy. By modernizing and expanding this section of the grid, you will have better access to reliable and affordable electricity for decades to come.
The grid upgrades also enable us to better tap into South Dakota’s diverse energy resources. Coal and natural gas remain to be some of the most reliable and affordable sources of energy we have access to. In a state that spends a disproportionate amount of our family budgets on electricity costs, affordability has to be a big factor. The upgraded grid system will move this kind electricity more efficiently.
But we also live in a place that can capitalize on an abundant amount of wind and hydro power. Grid upgrades will allow us to take greater advantage of that as well.
Unfortunately, many experts have raised concerns that President Obama’s Clean Power Plan puts a greater emphasis on regulation than innovation when it comes to modernizing our electrical system. Because the proposed EPA mandates are expected to put added strains on the grid, we could see decreased reliability and higher costs for consumers. It’s irresponsible to compromise our energy security in this way.
Most of us live our lives on the grid. Making sure it is reliable and efficient has to be a priority. It was a privilege to be there while South Dakota took another step in the process of modernizing the grid, but more must be done. For that to happen efficiently, the federal government has to get out of the way and let innovation lead.