NEW YORK — America’s power grid is like an old car.
It gets the job done, even if its performance is slipping. But the repair bills go up every year and experts say only a major overhaul will reverse its decline.
An Associated Press analysis of utility spending and reliability nationwide found that electric customers are spending 43 percent more than they did in 2002 to build and maintain local electric infrastructure. Since then, power outages have remained infrequent; but when the lights do go out, it now takes longer to get them back on.
Neither the spending nor the reliability trends are dramatic on their own. But experts say the combination is revealing: it suggests that the extra money from electric customers isn’t being spent wisely — or that utilities aren’t investing nearly enough to upgrade fragile equipment that is increasingly threatened by major storms.
“The electric system is the critical linchpin of our society, and we are operating the overall system closer to the edge,” said Massoud Amin, a grid security expert and professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota.
The diminishing returns on investment reflect several trends: The grid is getting old, making it more expensive to maintain service at current levels of reliability; day-to-day weather and major storms have become more extreme, meaning wires, poles and transformers have to be replaced more frequently; and when utilities replace aging or broken equipment, they are not always upgrading to modern technologies common in other industrialized nations.