Environmental ethics and the electric power grid: A case for technological momentum

Paul A Povlock, Salve Regina University


This qualitative analysis examines the effects of a growing environmental ethic on the electric power grid in southeastern New England from the late nineteenth century to the start of the new millennia. The increased awareness of the environment evolved into a new belief system of the population and altered the methods of construction, operation and maintenance of the advanced technology system of the electric power grid. The manner in which this occurred suggests that technological momentum is a better concept than technological determinism with which to examine the development of technological systems in the modern world. ^ This dissertation examines the trinity of actors affecting this process. The electric power companies, with the New England Electric System as the main protagonist, attempted to expand the electric power grid to meet expected consumer demand and economic opportunities. A devoted cadre of nascent environmentalists, dismissive of the commercial and technological requirements of the electric power grid, suggested to the population that the new idea of protecting the environment should instead take priority. The interaction of these two forces led to a governmental response that attempted to continue to meet the population’s demands while preventing the degradation of the environment. The resultant transformation of the population’s perception of the electric power grid, its regulation by the government, and its operation by the system members, suggest that advanced technology systems are influenced as much by philosophical concerns as any technical constraints.^

Subject Area

Philosophy of science|Environmental studies|Electrical engineering

Recommended Citation

Povlock, Paul A, "Environmental ethics and the electric power grid: A case for technological momentum" (2016). Doctoral Dissertations (Off Campus access). AAI10113247.