Aug 31, 2023 - News

How climate change has affected power outages in Virginia

Hours of electrical outage experienced by the average customer in 2021
Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration; Chart: Axios Visuals

The average Virginia electricity customer experienced 7.2 hours of power outages in 2021 — up from 5.14 in 2020, and down from the 7.8 hours the state saw in 2013.

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

Yes, but: 2013 was an outlier year in Virginia that included a March snowstorm, severe thunderstorms in June and September, and another snow storm in December.

  • Between 2014-2017, around three hours was the average annual power outage.

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

The big picture: The average U.S. electricity customer experienced 7.3 hours of power outages 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.
Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration; Chart: Axios Visuals

The intrigue: Virginia is uniquely positioned to experience some of the costliest effects from weather events, the Washington Post reported in 2013.

  • As an East Coast state, it gets coastal storms, plus winter and summer extremes and the storminess that comes from being in the crosshairs.
  • Virginians saw the most hours of power outages in 2018, the year that included snow and ice storms in January, March, November and December, plus the remnants of a hurricane and a tropical storm, powerful thunderstorms and six tornadoes.

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

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