Flag on the Play: Misleading Energy Responses to the Super Bowl Blackout

By Danielle Baussan

Ten years from now, Super Bowl XLVII will be remembered for several reasons:

  • 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown
  • an energized, though unsuccessful, comeback from the 49ers, and
  • a record 164.1 million viewers who saw the Superdome lose electricity for 34 minutes.

Super Bowl XLVII’s blackout wasn’t the first outage at a sporting event, but it may be the first time that such a blackout served as a kickoff for conspiracy theories and misleading facts about energy infrastructure. Here’s a ten-yard run through misleading facts that have been attributed to the blackout.

We need more coal!

Entergy’s claim that there was no problem with energy supply wasn’t enough to deter Peabody Energy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gregory Boyce, who stated that, “Without coal, you might as well turn off half the lights not just for our favorite games but also for our cities, shops, factories and homes.” Yet coal use in power plants has dropped from 50 to 36 percent, based on the low cost of natural gas, and the high cost of respiratory problems from its pollution. Coal-powered electric plants are the nation’s top source of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution, the primary source of climate change. Power plant emissions also cause smog, which triggers a host of health problems from lung damage, asthma attacks, and chest pain. Boyce’s claims aren’t just wrong—they’re dangerous.

We need to drill more!

Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, said that the Super Bowl outage “helps to perhaps kick-start the debate,” as she released her energy plan blueprint that gives a big boost to increased drilling for oil and gas. “We’ve got this Immaculate Conception theory of energy: It just happens, the lights turn on, it’s the temperature we want, until it’s not,” said the Senator. Oil isn’t generally used for electricity, though natural gas is a significant fuel for power plants. Regardless of what happened at the Super Bowl, an energy plan relying on fossil fuels gives us temperatures we really don’t want, in the form of global warming.

Energy efficiency caused the power outage!

Others tried to blame the Superdome’s 26,000 LED lights for the blackout, despite the fact that energy efficient lights reduce strain on the electrical grid and can help prevent blackouts. This sly finger-pointing was quickly shot down when others noticed that the LED lights were on the outside of the stadium — and did just fine.

Blame it on Beyonce!

Pop stars aren’t often blamed for infrastructure failures, but Beyonce’s high-voltage halftime performance raised theories that the brightly lit show caused an electric demand overload. Not so, says the Superdome’s manager — the performance was lit with generators.

While we haven’t quite discovered the true cause of the outage, this year’s Superbowl has sparked a new kind of Monday morning quarterbacking about energy infrastructure. Let’s hope that by next January, people will stop making the blame game the next “Superbowl shuffle,” end tired plays to promote dirty fossil fuels, and instead make forward passes on energy efficiency, cleaner power, and smart grid reform.

Danielle Baussan is the Associate Director of Government Affairs at the Center for American Progress

5 Responses to Flag on the Play: Misleading Energy Responses to the Super Bowl Blackout

  1. Albert says:

    Have you read Language Intelligence yet? When trying to counter myths (aka lies) don’t repeat them.

  2. Lionel A says:

    Here is an idea. How about scheduling more games for daylight? This across the globe for all big sports fixtures.

    Sure practices for the sportsmen and women could be allowed after dark because many of the truly dedicated have day jobs.

  3. My take on how the blackout helps make the case for smart microgrids at grist –

  4. Artful Dodger says:

    Ooh, I heard a better one! Anonymous hackers turn out to be 49er’s fans. :^)

  5. Omega Centauri says:

    It could be used to make the case for LEDs against HID (High Intensity Discharge) lighting, which is both power hungry and takes 15 minutes to reach full brightness. Nearly half of the wait time, was waiting for the HID lights to reach full intensity. And of course if you know you can turn lights on instantly, you can turn them off when not needed.