The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Report: Power outages due to weather have doubled since 2003

(Climate Central)

Climate Central released a report Thursday with a remarkable conclusion, but one that may not surprise too frequently “in the dark” Washington, D.C.-area residents: the number of weather-related power outages has shot up since the 1980s, and doubled since 2003.

The Princeton, NJ-based non-profit conducted a national analysis of the last 28 years of outage data from U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, and from the North American Electric Reliability Council. It found a stunning ten-fold increase in outages over the period, spanning 1984-2012.

Some of the increase since the 1980s is due to increased outage reporting, Climate Central cautions.  “Yet even since 2003, after stricter reporting requirements were widely implemented, the average annual number of weather-related power outages doubled,” the report finds.

Virginia and Maryland were both among the ten states with the most weather-related outages since 2003, ranking 5th and 6th, respectively.  In that time span, the region was rocked by Hurricanes Isabel (2003), Irene (2011), and Sandy (2012), the June 2012 derecho, and Snowmageddon (2010), all mass-outage events.

Four power companies which serve the Washington, D.C. region (Dominion, Pepco, Baltimore Gas and Electric, and Allegheny) were among the top 25 utilities with the most reported major weather-related outages from 2003-2012, nationally.

The surge in outages raises the question: what’s the cause of the uptick?

Climate Central explains many factors may be driving the increase – from a vulnerable grid under heavy demand to an apparent increase in extreme weather events, some of which may be linked to human-induced climate change. It describes climate change as an outage “threat multiplier” but cautions linking certain extreme weather events to climate change is difficult.

“Climate change is, at most, partially responsible for this recent increase in major power outages, which is a product of an aging grid serving greater electricity demand, and an increase in storms and extreme weather events that damage this system,” the report concludes. “But a warming planet provides more fuel for increasingly intense and violent storms, heat waves, and wildfires, which in turn will continue to strain, and too often breach, our highly vulnerable electrical infrastructure.”