Too often, our infrastructure conversations take on the tone of fixing old things, when what we should be doing is imagining and creating new things.
Infrastructure is and should be about how we want to live in the future.
Because the future will not be like the past.
Not even if you're a climate change-denying Republican politician.
Ask Texas' lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, whose response on Fox News to $17,000 electric bills for Texans thawing from their deep freeze earlier this month when the state's power grid collapsed was that people getting those bills "gambled on a very, very low rate" and in the future they should "read the fine print" in their utility contracts.
This is the same guy who last March told Tucker Carlson he was "all in" on lifting social distancing guidelines meant to limit the spread of coronavirus. Instead he said he would help the economy "in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren."
The extremely contagious "stupid germ" often bites politicians talking to Fox. Especially those talking to Carlson.
But the future will not be like the past.
Ezra Klein, a New York Times opinion columnist, wrote this week of reading "The Green Swan: Central banking and financial stability in the age of climate change."
One line, in particular, caught Klein's attention: "Climate-related risks will remain largely unhedgeable as long as systemwide action is not undertaken."
Texas is a rich state in a rich country that hedged its bets on a rare freeze — even though rare isn't so rare anymore.
It doesn't have to be this way. We don't have to have stupid politicians. And, fortunately, as of Jan. 20, we now have at least one less of them in the White House. Nor do we have to hedge or gamble.
Now is the time for President Joe Biden to begin making good on his "Build Back Better" campaign slogan, He is expected in coming weeks to lay out a blueprint for a $2 trillion infrastructure plan with a central focus on clean energy and our energy grid.
Think of the energy grid as the "interstate highways" of electricity delivery. It's a power distribution system of massive towers and lines that transfer power long distances from myriad and varied power plants to distribution companies like EPB and to the lines that carry that power into our homes and businesses.
But most of this system was constructed in the 1950s and 60s and is well past its life expectancy.
The grid is also highly fragmented, and a mishmash of regional, state, and local authorities oversee the transmission system's operation and development.
There are three main grids in the U.S. — the western grid, the Texas grid and the eastern grid. The eastern grid includes TVA's grid.
The Tennessee Valley Authority's grid is figuratively "fenced" off around its power territory that extends throughout Tennessee and into six other states — parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. Congress established that fence in 1959 to contain TVA power sales within its service area and to block outside power suppliers from coming into the Tennessee Valley.
TVA uses the fence — even in a court filing this week — to prevent or discourage power distributors like EPB or Memphis Light, Gas and Water — from shopping elsewhere for power.
Energy experts, however, say that bigger, better and more interconnected transmission systems and battery storage would make our power system more resilient in the extreme weather spurred by climate change.
The investments touted by Biden talk about strengthening and better connecting our grid. They also would help satisfy Biden's 2035 goal of an emissions-free power system while helping us meet increased electric demand nationwide as more electric vehicles hit the roads and as more buildings rely on electricity instead of natural gas.
But there's another bigger payoff.
A new study from Americans for a Clean Energy Grid shows building a cleaner, more interconnected Eastern U.S. electricity grid could create 6 million high-wage jobs across the region. The study also found that an interconnected Eastern power grid would unleash up to $7.8 trillion in private investment and reduce consumer costs.
Making it happen, of course, will take more than just TVA letting go of its "territory" mindset. It also will take large-scale changes in government policy.
Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan climate policy think tank, says the Department of Energy and the Department of Interior should immediately begin developing new national energy corridors and renewable energy zones — continuous strips of federal land across jurisdictional boundaries suitable for renewable energy and transmission development.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, according to the think tank, should initiate new rulemaking to ensure transmission planning and cost allocations that will more accurately account for future climate calamities.
The Biden administration is set to unveil a blueprint for infrastructure spending, including investments in the nation's electrical grid, within weeks.
George Bernard Shaw wrote: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
It's time to jolt our unreasonable men awake.