Poisoning suspect honored by Putin in 2014, UK group says
By JILL LAWLESS
Tuesday, October 9
LONDON (AP) — One of the two suspects in the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in England is a military intelligence officer who was made a Hero of the Russian Federation by President Vladimir Putin in 2014, the British investigative group Bellingcat said Tuesday.
The group identified the suspect in the March nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter as Alexander Mishkin, a doctor who works for Russia’s GRU intelligence agency.
British police say two GRU agents traveled under the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Borishov and used a Soviet-made nerve agent to poison the Skripals in the English city of Salisbury.
Bellingcat said it relied on documents and other research to conclude Mishkin was the suspect known as Petrov. Last month, it named the other suspect, “Borishov,” as GRU Col. Anatoly Chepiga.
Moscow declined to comment on the group’s stated findings.
Bellingcat is a team of volunteer digital detectives that scours social media and open-source records to investigate crimes. Other cases it focused on include the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine and chemical attacks in Syria.
The group said it identified Mishkin through passport information, residents’ databases, car registration records and phone records, as well as personal testimony from people who know him.
The group said Mishkin was born in 1979, grew up in the remote marshland village of Loyga in northern Russia and studied medicine at the Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg.
Two former students at the academy confirmed Mishkin was the man British authorities identified as Alexander Petrov, Bellingcat reported. So did seven residents of his home village visited by the Insider, the British group’s Russian partner organization.
“They confirmed that their homeboy Alexander Mishkin was the person who moved on to military school and then became a famous military doctor and who received the award of Hero of the Russian Federation personally from President Putin,” Bellingcat investigator Christo Grozev said at a news conference at Britain’s Parliament.
Traveling under his assumed name of Petrov, Mishkin went to Ukraine and other neighboring countries to Russia between 2011 and 2013, Bellingcat said.
In 2014, he was active in military operations in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists lead a violent breakaway movement. The same year, he was given one of Russia’s highest honors.
Mishkin’s grandmother has a photograph “that has been seen by everybody in the village, of President Putin shaking Mishkin’s hand and giving him the award,” Grozev said.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin wouldn’t discuss investigative reports and media articles on the Skripal poisoning. He reiterated Tuesday the government’s claim that Britain stonewalled Russian requests to share details of the probe.
Skripal, a Russian military intelligence officer turned double agent for Britain, and his visiting daughter spent weeks in critical condition after the Salisbury attack. In June, two area residents who apparently came across a discarded vial that contained the poison fell ill; one of them died.
Britain claims the poisoning was authorized at a top level of the Russian state — a claim Moscow denies. The Skripals’ poisoning ignited a diplomatic confrontation in which hundreds of envoys were expelled by both Russia and Western nations.
The attack on the Skripals has focused global attention on the GRU, an intelligence unit that Western officials say is linked to computer hacking and other covert operations around the world.
British, Dutch and U.S. officials have accused the GRU of trying to hack the computers of international agencies, masterminding a devastating 2017 cyberattack on Ukraine and being behind stolen emails that roiled the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Last week, authorities in the Netherlands alleged that the GRU had tried and failed to hack the world’s chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The U.S. Justice Department also charged seven GRU officers in an alleged international hacking rampage that targeted more than 250 athletes, a Pennsylvania-based nuclear energy company, a Swiss chemical laboratory and the chemical weapons watchdog.
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this story.
The Catholic Church’s grim history of ignoring priestly pedophilia – and silencing would-be whistleblowers
October 9, 2018
Instructor and Associate Director, Case Western Reserve University
Brian Clites does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Case Western Reserve University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Widespread public shock followed the recent release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report that identified more than 1,000 child victims of clergy sexual abuse. In fact, as I know through my research, the Vatican and its American bishops have known about the problem of priestly pedophilia since at least the 1950s. And the Church has consistently silenced would-be whistleblowers from within its own ranks.
In the memory of many Americans, the only comparable scandal was in Massachusetts, where, in 2002, the Boston Globe published more than 600 articles about abuses under the administration of Cardinal Bernard Law. That investigation was immortalized in the 2015 award-winning film, “Spotlight.”
What many Americans don’t remember, however, are other similar scandals, some even more dramatic and national in scope.
Doubling down on secrecy
While the problem of priestly pedophilia might be centuries old, the modern paper trail began only after World War II, when “treatment centers” appeared for rehabilitating abusive priests. Instead of increased transparency, bishops, at the same time, developed methods for denying and hiding allegations of child sexual abuse.
During the 1950s and 1960s, bishops from around the U.S. began referring abusive priests to church-run medical centers, so that they could receive evaluation and care without disclosing their crimes to independent clinicians.
Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, who began his ministry in Boston and Quebec, was among those who advocated prayer over medicine. In 1947, Fitzgerald moved to New Mexico and founded the Servants of the Paraclete, a new order of Catholic priests devoted to healing deviant clergy. His belief in faith healing reflected a vocal minority of Catholic leaders who still viewed psychology as a threat to Christian faith.
Fitzgerald based the Paracletes in New Mexico. From 1947 to 1995, the state became a dumping ground for pedophile priests. As Kathleen Holscher, chair of Roman Catholic studies at the University of New Mexico, has observed, this practice forced New Mexico’s parishes to absorb, in effect, abusive priests from across the country.
Other priests sent to the Paracletes were returned back into ministry in their home diocese, reassigned to new parishes that had no way of knowing about their abusive past.
This system was sustained, in part, by the fact that few diocesan personnel files recorded past accusations by children and parents. As Richard Sipe, a psychologist who worked at a similar Catholic treatment center later revealed, bishops generally masked past accusations by instead recording code words like “tickling,” “wrestling” or “entangled friendship” in personnel files.
By 1956, Fitzgerald became convinced that pedophilia could not be treated, even as he continued to believe that prayers could cure other illnesses, such as alcoholism. He petitioned U.S. bishops to stop sending him their child abusers, advocating instead for firing abusive priests and permanently removing them from ministry.
Fitzgerald eventually appealed directly to the Vatican, and met with Pope Paul VI to discuss the problem in 1963.
It is unclear when the Church began using hush settlements to silence victims. The practice, however, was so widespread by the 1980s that the Vatican assigned church lawyers to adjust their insurance policies in order to minimize additional liabilities.
These included Fr. Thomas Doyle, a nonparish priest who specialized in Roman Catholicism’s internal laws; Fr. Michael Petersen, a trained psychiatrist who believed that priests with abusive disorders should be treated medically; and Roy Mouton, a civil attorney who represented one of the church’s most notorious pedophile priests.
Together, they authored a 92-page report and submitted it for presentation at the 1985 meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Church’s apparatus for controlling and governing American priests.
The document estimated that American bishops should plan to be sued for at least US $1 billion, and up to $10 billion, over the following decades.
Several of the nation’s most powerful cardinals buried the report.
In response, Doyle mailed all 92 pages, along with an executive summary, to every diocese in the United States. Yet there is no evidence that any bishops headed the report’s warnings.
1992: The nation’s first scandal
During the 1980s, victims began to speak out against the church’s systemic attempts to mask the scope of the crisis. In 1984, survivors of Fr. Gilbert Gauthe refused to be silenced by hush money, instead choosing the painful path of initiating public lawsuits in Louisiana. Gauthe ultimately confessed to abusing 37 children.
As these stories became public, more and more victims began to bring lawsuits against the Church. In Chicago, the nation’s first two clergy abuse survivor organizations, Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse Linkup (LINKUP) and the Survivors’ Network for Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), were created in 1987.
In 1992, survivor Frank Fitzpatrick’s public allegations led to revelations that Fr. James Porter had abused more than 100 other children in Massachusetts. Widespread shock followed at the time as well as after Fitzpatrick’s appearance on ABC’s “Primetime Live,” when news anchor Diane Sawyer interviewed Fitzpatrick and 30 other Porter victims.
The national outcry forced dioceses across the country to create public standards for how they were handling abuse accusations, and American bishops launched new marketing campaigns to regain trust.
In spite of internal pledges to reform their culture of covering up abuses, the Pennsylvania grand jury report demonstrates that the Church’s de facto policy remains unchanged since the 1950s: Instead of reporting rape and sexual abuse to secular authorities, bishops instead continue to transfer predatory priests from one unsuspecting parish to the next.
Victims with no hope of justice
The issue of clergy sex abuse has also unleashed broader questions about justice and faith: Can courtrooms repair souls? How do survivors continue to pray and attend Mass?
As a scholar who studies communities of clergy abuse victims, I have asked Catholics to share their thoughts about the current crisis. Many of them tell me that “at least” Boston’s Cardinal Law “went to jail.” That leads to an awkward moment when I have to refresh their memory.
Cardinal Law was neither indicted nor arrested. Instead, Pope John Paul II transferred Law to run one of the Vatican’s most cherished properties, the Basilica of Saint Mary, essentially rewarding Law for his deft cover-up of the abuses in Boston.
In fact, no American bishops or cardinals have ever been jailed for their role in covering up and enabling child sexual abuse. Civil settlements have held the Church accountable only financially. A combination of political complacency and expired statutes of limitations has prevented most survivors from obtaining real justice.
Outraged by this lack of justice, survivors urged the International Criminal Court at The Hague to investigate the Vatican for crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court declined, citing the fact that many of the alleged crimes occurred before the court was formed, and were thus beyond the scope of the court’s “temporal jurisdiction.”
To date, the highest-ranking priest tried in an American court is Philadelphia’s Monsignor William Lynn, who was charged with conspiracy and two counts of endangering children. His 2012 conviction for one count of endangerment was vacated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2016. He now awaits an unscheduled retrial.
Even as scholars and theologians have called for all of the American bishops to resign, there has been little talk of criminal prosecutions. If yesterday’s survivors do not find justice, tomorrow’s children will not know safety.
As the Pennsylvania grand jury emphasized:
“There have been other reports about child sexual abuse within the Catholic church… For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.”
How your birth date influences how well you do in school, and later in life
October 8, 2018
A large body of research has shown students who were relatively old among their peers are more likely become professional sports players.
Professor in Economics, Queensland University of Technology
Senior Lecturer QUT Business School, Economics and Finance, Queensland University of Technology
Juliana Silva Goncalves
Postdoctoral Research Fellow QUT Business School, Economics and Finance, Queensland University of Technology
Lionel Page receives funding from the Australian Research Council.
Dipanwita Sarkar and Juliana Silva Goncalves do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Queensland University of Technology provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.
Whether you were born in December, January, August or September can have a significant and long-lasting impact on your life. Our new research shows your birthday month may also contribute to shaping your personality. In particular, we found people’s self-confidence can significantly differ because of their month of birth.
The reason isn’t your astrological sign, but rather the role your birth date plays in deciding when you enter school. Most countries specify when young children should start school using a cut-off date in the year.
For instance, in the UK the cut-off date is September 1. In federal nations such as Australia or the US, cut-off dates vary between states. Children who turn five by the cut-off date will start school, while children whose birthday is after the cut-off date will still be four and start school the following year.
The relative position of your birthday to the school cut-off date has one important consequence: it determines whether throughout primary and secondary school you are among the older, more mature, taller students in the class or not.
Relative age and career success
It’s well known that relative age at school can have a long lasting impact. A large body of research has shown, for example, students who were relatively old among their peers are more likely to become professional sports players. This pattern is evident across a wide range of sports in many different countries with different cut-off dates: soccer, ice hockey and AFL.
Famous footballers who were relatively old among their peers include for instance Pep Guardiola, the current manager of Manchester City.
In a previous study, we found US Congressmen are more likely to have been relatively old among their peers at school. from www.shutterstock.com
Studies have also found relatively old students do better at school. Even though the advantage tends to decrease over time, they are still slightly more likely to go to university. The long term impact on professional achievement doesn’t seem very large, but in some highly competitive environments, people who were relatively old at school are substantially over-represented.
This is the case among CEOs of large corporations. Previous research found this was also the case among leading US politicians.
The role of self-confidence
Our research suggests one of the main reasons for this “birthday effect” is the impact of relative age on self-confidence. Recent research shows children who enjoy being ranked relatively high compared to their peers have higher self-confidence. Being relatively old among your peers tends to place you higher in the distribution of achievement. Children who enjoy this throughout childhood can end up being more confident in their aptitude and carry this confidence with them later on.
To test this idea, we conducted two studies. The first was with Australian school children in years eight to nine (13- to 15-year-olds) born one month apart from the school cut-off date.
We surveyed 661 children about their tendency to take risks and to feel confident. We found evidence some of the relatively old boys tended to be more competitive than their peers.
In the second study, we surveyed more than 1,000 Australian adults (24- to 60-year-olds) who were born on different sides of the cut-off date in their state. We found those who had been relatively old at school were more confident in their ability in a task involving simple mathematical calculations. They also indicated they were more willing to take risks in their lives than those who had been relatively young.
Policies to mitigate the birthday effect
In a world where self-confidence and risk-taking is rewarded, these traits can give them an edge. Those who were relatively young may be at a disadvantage.
Understanding the somewhat unexpected effect of birth dates on personality traits is important. It can inform policies to mitigate the relative age effects.
For instance, it can help educators in their assessment and fostering of each child’s potential. In particular, it can help inform the design of curriculum and assessment programs to avoid the unintended penalty imposed on relatively young students who were born before the cut-off date rather than after it. It also means grouping children based on ability across age range may be a better solution than strict age-based classes.
Dutch appeals court upholds landmark climate case ruling
By MIKE CORDER
Tuesday, October 9
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch appeals court on Tuesday upheld a landmark ruling that ordered the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020 from benchmark 1990 levels.
The Netherlands, known for its historic reliance on windmills and ongoing use of bicycles, already is working to cut emissions, but the court said that the country needs to do more.
“Considering the great dangers that are likely to occur, more ambitious measures have to be taken in the short term to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to protect the life and family life of citizens in the Netherlands,” the court said in a statement.
The original June 2015 ruling came in a case brought by the environmental group Urgenda on behalf of 900 Dutch citizens. Similar cases are now underway in several countries around the world.
Cheers and applause rang out around the packed courtroom as Hague Appeals Court Presiding Judge Marie-Anne Tan-de Sonnaville rejected the government’s appeal.
The ruling came a day after the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued an urgent report saying that preventing even just an extra single degree of heat in Earth’s climate could make a life-or-death difference in the next few decades for multitudes of people and ecosystems.
Marjan Minnesma of Urgenda hailed the Dutch ruling as a significant victory that will boost similar legal initiatives elsewhere in the world.
“We won on every single point. And it was a very good explanation of the urgency of what is necessary and that states in industrial countries should do between a 25-40 percent CO2 reduction,” Minnesma said after the ruling.
She said the court “clearly said that climate change is a very urgent problem with enormous risks so the state should do at least the minimum.”
Since the original judgment, a new Dutch government has pledged to reduce emissions by 49 percent by 2030, but it has yet to nail down exactly how to reach that target and how to foot the bill. Urgenda argues that the government — and other countries — need to do more sooner than 2030 to prevent serious consequences of climate change.
Minnesma had a few suggestions for lawmakers, such as lowering the maximum speeds on some Dutch highways and shutting down coal-fired power stations.
The government announced earlier this year that it plans to shuttering two of the countries five coal-fired power plants by 2024 and the remaining three by 2030.
Greenpeace urged the government to move faster.
“This statement means that all coal-fired power stations in the Netherlands must be closed more quickly,” said Faiza Oulahsen, campaign leader for climate and energy with Greenpeace Netherlands.
The government appealed the original ruling, saying that it effectively meant a court was formulating government policy. But the court rejected that argument, saying that judges must uphold international treaties such as the European human rights convention to which the Netherlands is a party.
In a statement following Tuesday’s decision, the government said it would study the ruling “with an eye on possible further appeal,” but at the same time pledged to carry out the court’s order. It said a recent assessment suggested that the target of a 25 percent reduction of emissions by 2020 “is within reach.”
The U.N. panel on climate change said Earth’s weather, health and ecosystems would be in better shape if world leaders could somehow limit future human-caused global warming to just 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (a half degree Celsius) from now, instead of the globally agreed-upon goal of 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C).
To limit warming to the lower temperature goal, the world needs “rapid and far-reaching” changes in energy systems, land use, city and industrial design, transportation and building use, the report said. Annual carbon dioxide pollution levels would have to drop by about half by 2030 and then be near zero by 2050.
The Conversation: Academic rigor, journalistic flair
‘Disillusioned’ Brazilians choose Bolsonaro, Haddad after a tense and violent campaign
October 8, 2018
Helder Ferreira do Vale
Associate Professor, Graduate School of International and Area Studies, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
Helder Ferreira do Vale does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Presidential runoff candidates: Jair Bolsonaro, far-right lawmaker of the Social Liberal Party and Fernando Haddad of Brazil’s leftist Workers Party.
After a tense, violent and polarized campaign, Brazilians have voted to advance two candidates from opposite sides of the ideological spectrum to a presidential runoff on Oct. 28.
Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right congressman who enjoys strong evangelical backing for his law-and-order stance on policing, support for gun rights and opposition to abortion, won 46 percent of the valid votes.
Fernando Haddad, a leftist candidate of the Brazilian Workers Party and former mayor of São Paulo, came in second place with 29 percent, his portion of the vote split with the other left-of-center presidential candidates, Ciro Gomes and Marina Silva.
Nine other presidential candidates shared the remaining 12 percent of the vote.
In addition to choosing their top two picks for president, Brazil’s 147 million voters also voted on Oct. 7 for two-thirds of the Senate and more than 500 congressional representatives, races that featured a historic number of black women candidates running for local office.
Congress will remain highly fragmented, with no political party controlling a majority of seats. But maintaining a pattern seen in previous elections, conservative caucuses – which represent the evangelical, agribusiness and crime-fighting interests – have increased their influence.
Despite electing right-of-center candidates to Congress, Sunday’s vote also show the loss of support for traditional parliamentarians. Several influential Brazilian politicians were not reelected. The results for state governors’ races paint a more complex picture. Left-wing candidates won in the first round in seven of Brazil’s 27 states, showing progressive parties’ continues popularity at the state level.
The stakes of this year’s election are extremely high.
Once a rising star in the developing world, Brazil has been mired in severe recession and political turmoil since 2015.
Hundreds of politicians, including former President Lula, have been arrested and jailed in a judicial investigation that has exposed corruption at the highest level of government.
Now, as the country prepares for its presidential runoff, public trust in Brazil’s politicians and political institutions has never been lower.
Hundreds of thousands of women across Brazil marched against presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who is known for his disparaging remarks about women, on Sept. 29. AP Photo/Andre Penner
A survey conducted in August by the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics showed that only 25 percent of citizens trusted their federal government and 18 percent trusted Congress.
Other public opinion polling has put faith in Brazil’s government closer to zero.
The 2018 campaign did little to reassure the electorate.
Bolsonaro, who trailed the popular former President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva by a wide margin throughout the campaign, saw a boost in the polls after he was stabbed at a campaign rally on Sept. 6. His attacker appears to suffer from mental health problems, but the attacker’s Facebook posts also showed outrage at both Bolsonaro and Brazil’s political system in general.
The election was thrown into further disarray a few days later when front-runner Lula – who was jailed on corruption charges in July – was forced to withdraw from the presidential bid after an electoral commission ruled he could not stand for office.
With less than a month to go before election day, the Workers Party chose Fernando Haddad, education minister under Lula, to replace Lula on the ticket.
Lula had been in first place with 37 percent of voter support, but his forced withdrawal put Bolsonaro into the lead.
Yet nearly 20 percent of voters were still undecided in the final days of the race – a sign of the general lack of interest in the electoral process this year.
Politics of disillusionment
The fact is that Brazilians, who are required by law to vote, will return to the polls on Oct. 28 with very little expectation either Bolsonaro or Haddad will do much to improve their lives – despite the country’s instability and troubles. Both candidates in the latest polls had more than 40 percent rejection rates.
Such situations tend to favor what I call the “politics of disillusionment.”
When voters don’t believe in their politicians or government institutions, candidates who tap into voter disdain for the political system can find success. In my opinion, this phenomenon helped lead right-wing outsiders to triumph in the United States, Italy and Hungary.
Over the last eight months, the politics of disillusionment have driven Brazil’s presidential race.
The two front-runners – Bolsonaro and Lula – may sit on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but they both espoused an openly anti-establishment agenda throughout the campaign.
Rather than make concrete proposals for pulling Brazil out of the crisis that grips it, Lula – who left office in 2010 with 80 percent approval – spent much his campaign attacking the country’s political institutions.
He depicted Brazil’s judiciary as a corrupt institution in the thrall of powerful right-wing politicians who use Congress to persecute their enemies.
In a campaign video released a week before he was deemed ineligible to run for president, Lula said he was a victim of Brazil’s broken political system.
“I am an innocent,” he said. “These judges are trying to prevent an innocent man from once again running a government that’s good for Brazil.”
Racism, misogyny and anger
Bolsonaro’s rightist critique of Brazilian society is far more scathing.
To capitalize on Brazilian voters’ frustration with political corruption and extreme violence, the former army captain defends Brazil’s military dictatorship which ran the country from 1964 to 1985, saying that the only problem with the authoritarian leaders was that they “tortured rather than killed” dissenters.
He also regularly uses homophobic, misogynistic and racist rhetoric to stigmatize, sideline or criminalize large swaths of Brazilian society. Critics point to Bolsonaro’s often violent messages as one explanation for the Sept. 6 knife attack against him.
When asked why he wants to roll back affirmative action at Brazilian public universities, Bolsonaro replied with a question: “Why don’t they [minorities] just study?”
He has also said that he would “never allow” his children to get romantically involved with a black person. He told a fellow congressional representative that she “did not deserve to be raped” by him because she was “terrible and ugly.”
Bolsonaro also considers abortion to be murder. His candidacy was met by outrage and mass protest by women.
To tackle Brazil’s record-high violence, Bolsonaro says he would ease gun laws and reduce the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16. He is a staunch proponent of reactivating the death penalty in Brazil, saying that he would “volunteer to kill those on death row” himself.
Brazil has the world’s third-largest prison population. Sixty-four percent of those incarcerated are black.
The triumph of radicalism
The outcome of Brazil’s first-round presidential election reveals a deeply polarized, angry and alienated electorate.
In such a political climate, my experience shows that the most radical candidate – in this case Bolsonaro – is likely to triumph.
Haddad has softened the kind of anti-establishment discourse Lula used, hoping to attract moderate voters, and he may well have more concrete proposals for reforming and improving a democracy that’s frayed at the edges.
But in the politics of disillusionment, that will give him no advantage.
Opinion: Fortifying the Electric Grid
By Paul Steidler
John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair a roof is when the sun is shining.” Today, the push is on to fortify the electric grid before severe weather or other catastrophes hit.
The spate of superstorms and hurricanes that have led to widespread and prolonged outages in New York, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and most recently the Carolinas has Americans asking some basic questions.
Will we be safe? How long will we be without lights and power?
The good news is that there is a lot of work already being done to strengthen the grid.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported in February, “Spending on infrastructure to deliver power to homes and businesses has increased steadily in the past 10 years as utilities build, upgrade and replace station equipment, poles, fixtures and overhead lines and devices.”
It adds, “Spending on operations and maintenance of the transmission grid has also risen steadily — from $3.3 billion in 1996 to $13.5 billion in 2016.”
America’s electric grid is 5.5 million miles, which makes identifying the weakest links in the chain inherently challenging. Furthermore, no two traumatic weather events are the same, and thus predicting all catastrophic scenarios is difficult at best.
Below are 10 positive developments in recent years that are helping to strengthen grid reliability and reduce the likelihood of outages from a myriad of day-to-day events or larger catastrophes.
—Better data analytics. Improved computer systems are more effective at analyzing and predicting likely damaging, troublesome events so that pre-emptive actions can be taken.
—Digital media. The use of cell phones and social media helps utilities to be notified more quickly and with more detail on where problems are.
—Bury lines. When new construction occurs, electric lines are now often buried. These buried lines have far fewer problems than overhead lines.
—Fortify and move substations. Vulnerable substations, especially those on flood plains, are being elevated or moved.
—Tree management. Falling trees can take down power lines and were a key cause of the vast 2003 Northeast blackout. Through tree trimming and vegetation management, including identifying rotting trees, these potential problems can be eliminated.
—Stockpiling. It is difficult to obtain grid equipment, especially large amounts of it, after a disaster. Having items pre-positioned for replacement or even redeployment to affected areas in a given region of the country addresses this challenge.
—Better communication with crews. It is also now common for out-of-state crews to be deployed across the country. Through industry information sharing and lessons from prior disasters, communications between these crews has significantly improved.
—Automated metering. With smart meters, which provide two-way information from homes to utilities, problems can be more quickly identified and resolved. While the meters are primarily being used by consumers to manage power consumption, they also strengthen grid reliability.
—Electromagnetic pulses. The U.S. Department of Energy is assessing steps to address potential widespread damage from electromagnetic pulses, such as an atmospheric nuclear explosion or targeted ground sabotage. The Center for Security Policy has emphasized the need for such contingency planning.
—Share information. Through groups like the Edison Electric Institute and the Electric Power Research Institute, utilities and other energy experts are sharing lessons learned in disaster responses and establishing best practices.
There is no silver bullet when it comes to fortifying America’s vast, complex and ever-changing electric grid. And with large portions of the grid more than 40 years old, having originally been designed and built for locally generated power, the challenges will continue to significant.
By continuing the day-to-day work of identifying and fixing problems, and planning for catastrophes, the grid will be continuously improved. It will be better able to withstand a slew of weather disasters and other troublesome scenarios, while better serving the public day to day.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Paul F. Steidler is a senior fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank in Arlington, Virginia. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.