NEW YORK — The cost of weather-related power outages is high and rising as storms grow more severe and the U.S. electric grid gets older, according to an Obama administration report that calls for increased spending on the nation's electric power system.
Power outages cost the economy $18 billion to $33 billion per year, according to the report, a figure that has been rising steadily during the past 20 years. That can rise to $40 billion to $75 billion in years with severe storms such as 2008's Hurricane Ike and last year's Hurricane Sandy.
The White House report, released Monday, said spending to make the grid stronger and more flexible will save the economy "billions of dollars and reduce the hardship experienced by millions of Americans when extreme weather strikes."
The administration proposes spending on training and preparation, stronger equipment such as concrete poles, and more advanced sensing and diagnostic equipment that can predict failures, prevent them from getting worse, and restore power faster after it has gone out.
Seven of the 10 costliest storms in U.S. history occurred between 2004 and 2012. Eleven times last year weather-related outages led to losses of $1 billion or more, the second most on record, behind 2011, according to the report. Climate scientists expect ever more intense and destructive weather as climate change increases global temperatures, adding more energy to storms and shifting patterns of drought and precipitation.
The average U.S. power plant is 30 years old and 70 percent of the grid's transmission lines and transformers are at least 25 years old, making them weaker and more susceptible to failure in storms. U.S. customers lose power on average 1.2 times per year, for a total of 112 minutes, according to PA Consulting Group. Nine out of 10 of those outages are the result of problems with local distribution systems, according to the Edison Electric Institute, an electric industry lobbying group.
The U.S. electric power system is a web of generating stations, high-voltage wires that transmit power over long distances, substations, and local wires and equipment that deliver electricity to homes and businesses.
According to an analysis of spending on major transmission equipment by more than 200 utilities nationwide conducted for the Associated Press by Ventyx, a software and data services firm that works with electric utilities, utilities spent an average of $21,514 per year on devices and station equipment per mile of transmission line from 2003 to 2012. From 1994 to 2003, spending averaged $7,185 per year.
The White House report says increased spending in recent years has still not matched the level of investment between 1960 and 1990. The report does not suggest how much new spending was needed, where that spending would come from, or how much money would be saved by preventing some outages and making others less severe.