Aug 31, 2023 - News

Why we're having more power outages in Arkansas

Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration; Chart: Axios Visuals

experienced 5.27 hours without service in 2021 — down from 11.81 in 2020, but higher than 2013 to 2015, when the average was 4.61 to 5.11, Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report.

  • That's per the latest available data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Why it matters: Power failures stand to become more common as extreme weather events — many driven by climate change — wreak havoc on the country's aging power infrastructure.

  • Some outages are short-lived annoyances others are widespread events. Either can become deadly for those who depend on medical equipment, or for those who lose heating or air conditioning during periods of extreme temperatures.

The big picture: The average U.S. electricity customer experienced 7.3 hours without power in 2021 — down from 8.2 in 2020, but more than double 2013's rate.

  • The nationwide average of outage hours has been trending upward over the last several years, beginning with a notable spike in 2017 driven in part by outages following Hurricane Irma:

Between the lines: Access to reliable power is increasingly an equity issue, Axios New Orleans' Chelsea Brasted reports, as wealthier people usually can better afford backup generators and other adaptations, compared to those less well off.

  • The less dependable the grid is and the more dependent people are on securing their own power, the more potent the divide becomes, said Jackson Voss, climate policy coordinator at the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a consumer advocacy nonprofit.
  • Widespread generator use, meanwhile, can have an emissions and air quality impact — though manufacturers must follow EPA emissions standards.

What's next: Efforts to modernize the grid and reduce outages are underway.

  • The 2021 infrastructure law allocated $13 billion for modernizing the electrical grid, and the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act guarantees up to $250 billion in loans for projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing energy infrastructure, Axios' Jacob Knutson reported last month.

The bottom line: It'll take time — years, most likely — for those funds to translate into real-world improvements.

  • In the meanwhile, storms like Idalia will likely keep driving massive outages, putting lives at risk for hours, days or even weeks after they pass.
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