Letter to the editor from Kathleen Stowe, Candidate for State Representative, 149th state representative district of Greenwich and Stamford.
As I write this on Saturday afternoon, my household remains one of the 6,347 households without power in Greenwich. This week added another burden to an already tough year. We now need to ask how we can better prepare for the next storm, as we are seeing an increasing incidence of these events. At the same time, there have been tremendous advances in technology and in the way we all live and work since our electric system was designed. We should be thinking about all of these issues as we rebuild and reinforce our electric grid.
Our state and our region requires a robust and resilient infrastructure network that provides reliable power and high speed data. Strong infrastructure is crucial to a healthy community and economy. Electricity and access to the internet are essential, especially in this time of working and learning from our homes. As we recruit families and business to move to the state, they should rightly expect reliable access. A week-long outage is not the best “welcome to the suburbs” moment. We need to get this right.
Our monthly electric, cable and phone bills are expensive. We all pay a lot for access to these critical services. I recognize that our utility companies are dealing with legacy issues, layering 21st century technology on top of 18th and 19th century roads and 20th century systems. Infrastructure is not easy but we should all know what we’re paying for and we deserve to get top quality service for our money. Let’s ask all these questions of our utilities, our state regulators and ourselves.
Some of these questions were asked after other storms and there are commonly cited figures like it costs $1 million per mile to bury a line. In CT, we have approximately 25,000 miles of distribution lines, and so the basic math is initially unsettling. Can this be done more efficiently? Are there other ways to make our system more resilient? Let’s compare this to the cost of regular storm restoration, the economic cost of power outages and the amount so many people spend on generators, backup power and/or throwing away all their refrigerated food. We might choose to just stay the course or invest a small additional amount in backup planning, but as a community we need to at least ask for the broader analysis in order to make an informed decision.
Additionally, after relying on our overstretched and unreliable cellular network for the last week – a challenge those of us in backcountry know well – we’ve all been reminded of the value of broadband access. How can we ensure high quality, high speed internet for everyone? Will 5G technology supplement or replace our wired infrastructure?
Critically, we also need to think about the financing side of these questions. If we decide to invest more in our infrastructure, are there more efficient sources of funding? In these times of historically low interest rates, should we be using low cost debt to upgrade our energy systems? What is the economic payback?
We ask some of these questions after every major outage, but the power comes back, we momentarily rejoice and then we go back to laundry, dishes and Netflix without giving it much further thought. This time let’s do it differently. First let’s thank all those workers who’ve been out on round-the-clock shifts to get the system back up and running. And then let’s have a real conversation about our infrastructure.
Kathleen Stowe is candidate for the 149th state representative district of Greenwich and Stamford. More information can be found on kathleenstowe.com