Responsibility outages at the IEC

The power outages appear unprecedented in the scandalous nature of the excuses proffered.

electric company 88 (photo credit: )
electric company 88
(photo credit: )
The capacity of our providers of essential services to be serially astounded by the change of seasons and conventionally associated phenomena continues to manifest itself unfailingly every few months. Many a routine winter seems to surprise our health system with the scope of its accompanying upper respiratory infections, while summers are often ushered in with severe power-shortages, as if the Israel Electric Corporation were astonished by the hardly unusual phenomenon of a rush to the air conditioners during the first brief heat waves of June. Yet even by these parlous standards, the past two days of power outages throughout the country appear unprecedented in their scope, severity and the scandalous nature of the excuses proffered. Chief among the latter is the suggestion that summer somehow crept up upon us, most inconsiderately, at the very moment that some power stations and sub-stations were being serviced so as to be able to cope with increased summertime demands. Evidently the timing of summer's advent was so shocking - forgive the pun and the sarcasm - that the maintenance schedulers had failed to complete their upkeep work in time. The fact is, of course, that scorchers this time of year are neither unusual nor difficult to foretell. No new records were set by this week's heat wave, which was indeed forecast accurately. Overall, this spring was quite kind, without truly searing spates and with long stretches of below-normal temperatures - an ideal period, you might reasonably have believed, to complete any pre-summer upkeep. Even if, due to pitiful planning, some outages had to be deliberately initiated, there is no conceivable reason why effective advance notice could not have been provided to inhabitants of affected locales. There was no reason to allow folks to be trapped in elevators, to dangerously black out traffic lights or to leave patients on life-supporting respirators without time to make alternative emergency arrangements - as in the case of a man in Ofakim who lost consciousness when his respirator shut down at home and is now gravely ill in a hospital. To display high-handedness and lack of elementary concern for the public is outrageous, and to follow this up by toying with that same public is no better. Yesterday, the IEC put everyone in the Tel Aviv region on notice that selective power cuts were likely anytime between early morning and 6 p.m. Consequently, people in an area packed with high-rises were requested to avoid elevators all day. Wherever and whenever initiated cuts are contemplated, more specific notices - both in terms of geography and timing - are warranted. Open-ended warnings are no substitute. Rather than diminishing damage, they aggravate stress and inflict greater misery. Hundreds of megawatts that are currently lacking to meet summer demands, meanwhile, could have been supplied by Tel Aviv's Reading Station, which was closed following an outcry by environmental lobbyists who have charged it with polluting city air. If there is a necessity to adapt Reading or other power plants to reduce pollution, this should not be done without anticipating the need to maintain sufficient generating capacity. Europeans and Americans, with comparatively huge electrical reserves, can rely upon fallback power supplies from neighboring states. Israel is like an island in the wilderness, yet we chronically underproduce energy and have the lowest electric power reserves of any developed country (only 7 percent, compared to the 25%-30% customary in Europe). This should underscore the need to introduce the element of competition into our energy market and increase the construction of sub-stations. While the IEC would remain in charge of the infrastructure grid, there is no need to maintain its effective generation monopoly, leading to its evident treatment of the provision of power as a favor to be doled out to the populace. Competing suppliers should vie for customers, much as happened in Israel's telephone market, once a monopoly so aloof that it took years to hook up residences to landlines. As things are, we depend on a monopoly that has turned the conjuring of excuses into an art form. The IEC's own behavior continues to be the strongest argument for introducing greater competition into a market whose first responsibility should be to reliably supply electricity to every citizen.