Tropical Storm Sandy left hundreds of thousands of people without power for days longer than necessary for a simple, frustrating reason: America’s power grid is old, decrepit, poorly maintained, and vulnerable to everything from storms to cyber-terrorism. What’s worse, if we don’t fix the grid soon, America’s promising “energy boom,” based on vast new supplies of natural gas, could turn out to be a bust.

That’s the message of a major new article in the upcoming issue of the Washington Monthly by author and energy industry executive Jeffrey Leonard. As Leonard notes, the average substation transformer in America is forty-two years old—two years older than its expected lifespan—and even without major storms like Sandy or the derecho last summer, half a million Americans lose electricity for at least two hours every single day.

In his forward-thinking new piece, Leonard lays out a workable plan to transform America’s electricity industry that should be at the top of the Obama administration’s agenda. Step one? Fix our electric grid. Step two? Make use of America’s newfound natural gas resources in a way that will increase energy efficiency, augment the use of renewable energy sources, and reduce the number and the duration of power outages we must endure. With these two steps, America could secure decades of clean, reasonably-priced electricity, a comparative advantage that could fuel a revival in manufacturing and many other economic benefits. “The United States is at the cusp of what very well could be the biggest political and economic windfall in a generation,” Leonard writes, but only if we fix the grid first.

Read a sneak preview of “How We Could Blow the Energy Boom” here.

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Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. A former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, he is writing a book on America’s involvement in the Greek War of Independence.