Throwback Blog: A Blue Lining To The Blackout?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve decided to re-post some of our most popular blogs from past years. The following post originally was published on our blog in the fall of 2004.

In the summer of 2003, our nation experienced one of the worst blackouts in history. Homes and businesses throughout the northeast were without power for days. It was a difficult time for many people.

But we learned some valuable lessons during this dark period – how to better manage the electric grid; and, according to recent reports, we more fully understand the impact generating typical system power can have on the environment.

According to a study by scientists working at the University of Maryland, scheduled for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, there was a dramatic reduction in air pollution when coal-fired power plants shut down during the August 2003 Northeast blackout. Research showed that 24 hours into the blackout, pollution over a Pennsylvanian town directly downwind from coal-fired power plants was significantly reduced: sulfur dioxide levels were 90 percent lower; ozone was about 50 percent lower; and light scattered by particles was reduced by 70 percent – increasing visibility by 20 miles.

The study further concludes that the vastly cleaner air monitored over large areas of rural Pennsylvania headed toward the Mid Atlantic states. For a few days, at least, cities from Washington D.C. to New York City reaped the benefits of bluer skies.

Lackson Marufu, research scientist and lead author of the study stated, “What surprised us was not so much the observation of improved air quality during the blackout, but the magnitude of the observed improvement. The improvement in air quality was so great that you could not only measure it, but could actually see it as a much clearer, less hazy sky.”

The blackout was an unfortunate event that affected millions. But it taught us a valuable lesson about the importance of supporting renewable energy. As a Green Mountain Energy Company customer, you have already made the powerful choice to help change the way power is made and we thank you!