Like it or not, in the heat of a legislative session, when bills are flying, it doesn’t leave much time for reflection.

Early last session Cumberland County Representative John Szoka, a retired Lt. Colonel, filed a bill that sent ripples through the utility establishment, by crossing a long-standing line in the sand which prohibits people buying electricity directly from private companies (like solar companies), instead of Duke Energy.

Now, the biggest purchaser of electricity in Lt. Colonel Szoka’s community is Fort Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne Division. And it turns out, it was no coincidence Rep. Szoka introduced that bill.

It also turned out, when it comes to Fort Bragg, or anyone else, buying electricity from private companies, Duke Energy was not amused. Szoka’s bill went nowhere.

As I said, back then bills were flying so there wasn’t much debate. And it wasn’t until later that I read a news report about the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) spending $700 million to move back into Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs – the Cold-War era bunker that housed those protecting the continental U.S. from air attack since the sixties.

The U.S. military, as usual, didn’t offer much explanation. But the NORAD head did mention that Cheyenne Mountain was “EMP-hardened”.

EMP stands for Electromagnetic Pulse which is what happens if a rogue nation explodes a nuclear warhead in the atmosphere 30 miles over the U.S. There is no sound or blast damage or even radiation poisoning. It simply sends an invisible pulse wave across the country that fries all electronics – your house, your car, the commercial jetliner you are riding – and whatever was running stops. The unprotected electrical grid also stops – permanently. Which means no electricity for your home.

That sounds like a science-fiction nightmare. But, sometimes, far-fetched threats prove to be real and NORAD was preparing for this one.

Which puts Rep. Szoka’s bill in a whole new light: Because at the same time NORAD was spending $700 million to move back to Cheyenne Mountain, the General Assembly was saying no to Fort Bragg which wanted to take steps to control its own future supply of electricity.

So let’s put a peg down: The General Assembly needs to give Rep. Szoka’s bill a second look – and have a real debate. 

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