Electrifying America: From Thomas Edison to Climate Change

| August 21, 2017

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On September 4, 1882, Thomas Edison flipped a switch and illuminated an office building in New York’s financial district for the first time. But before Edison could achieve his goal of “lighting the world” he was challenged by George Westinghouse and his alternating current system. The ensuing War of the Electric Currents played out before the entire nation and became a vicious personal battle between Edison, Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla. The War of the Electric Currents was only the first in a long series of challenges to the reliable and affordable delivery of electricity in America. It was followed by the excesses of the Power Trusts of the 1920s, multiple large scale power blackouts, the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, California’s misadventure with competitive electric supply and Enron’s bankruptcy. The challenges continue to this day with fears of cyberattacks on the electric grid, the aging energy infrastructure, and the need to respond to the threat of climate change. As part of this journey through the evolution of electric service, forty-year industry veteran, I. David Rosenstein, provides a fascinating insider’s perspective on recent events such as electric industry restructuring and the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. He shows that, no matter how daunting the challenges, the electric industry and its policy makers have always met the challenges head-on and ensured delivery of electric supply that meets the public interest.

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