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After Sandy, can U.S. improve our power grid?

With Hurricane Sandy wiping out power for over 8.2 million customers, the Cyclists ask: Can’t we do better?

With Hurricane Sandy wiping out power for over 8.2 million customers, the Cyclists ask: Can’t we do better?

“It seems like every time there’s a storm or maybe some cyber-threat or a national security crisis, we talk about doing something about the National Grid. And then of course, that conversation goes away,” msnbc’s S.E. Cupp prompted. “If not now, when?”

Thomas Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, joined The Cycle today to discuss how the National Grid could be improved—an issue that Kuhn hopes will stay at the forefront of Americans’ minds, even after they’ve picked up Sandy’s pieces.

Kuhn might get his wish. Some Sandy-caused power outages are going viral and being shared across the nation. The explosion of a Consolidated Edison power plant in lower Manhattan last night already has over 2.6 million views on YouTube—an event that msnbc’s Steve Kornacki half-joked, “means we’re sort of screwed for a long time here.”

The duration of the power outage affecting the Eastern seaboard might also sear such discomfort into consumers’ minds. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said this morning that full power restoration could take more than the eight days it took after Irene last year. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a bit more optimistic this morning, estimating that “power may be out in lots of places for two or three days, and maybe even a little bit longer than that.”

Seventy percent of transmission lines and power transformers across the U.S. are at least 25 years old, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). But Kuhn assured the panel that “we have, believe it or not, the best electric grid in the world… Right now, we have 50,000 people, an army of people, to help restore power, but the magnitude of the task is huge.”

“We are investing $23 billion a year in the distribution grid, constantly upgrading it and modernizing it,” Kuhn went on to say. The ASCE estimates that the cumulative need to keep the U.S. power grid up-to-snuff will reach $673 billion by the year 2020. However, based on investment over the past decade, the ASCE believes that closing the gap is within reach.

For the time being, Kuhn says the national grid has to deal with the many power problems at hand—“water issues, wind issues where trees have come down on power lines and polls, the snow out West,” he rattled off. “I think we’ve had everything but the locusts.”