GRID:

The night the lights went out in New Orleans -- the whole world was watching

A power outage at the Super Bowl that left millions of viewers in the dark last night is providing healthy fodder for energy-related jokes in the nation's capital today and galvanizing questions about just how sturdy the country's aging electric grid really is.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) quipped today that regulators at an energy conference in Washington, D.C., were responsible for the 34-minute outage that occurred during the opening minutes of the second half of Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, La.

The situation could have been worse if it had darkened the stadium during Beyoncé's halftime performance, she added.

"We've got this immaculate conception theory of energy: It just happens ... until it's not," she said. "If it had gone out during the halftime show and cut Beyoncé off ... the country would be up in arms."

On a more serious note, Murkowski said the outage is a conversation starter that raises awareness about the system's vulnerability and the public's dependence on electricity. Federal regulators have been struggling to find ways to upgrade the grid, which is decades old and vulnerable to solar storms, hackers and an increasing number of violent storms.

The outage could spark conversations just as high-profile brownouts did in the past couple of years, Murkowski said.

Portions of the 73,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Superdome went dark last night just as the Baltimore Ravens were barreling toward their 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers, plunging the telecast into momentary darkness and audio silence and putting the year's most widely anticipated game in limbo.

Entergy Corp. and SMG Management Co., which manages the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, said in a joint statement today that a piece of equipment designed to monitor electrical load sensed an "abnormality" in the system.

Sensing equipment then opened a breaker, which serves to isolate the problem, causing power to be partially cut to the Superdome, the utility said. Backup generators immediately kicked in and power was restored.

Entergy and SMG are now investigating what went wrong.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has also said there was no connection between Beyoncé's high-wattage concert and the outage, according to the New York Daily News.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D) in a statement called the outage "an unfortunate moment in what has been an otherwise shining Super Bowl week for the City of New Orleans." Landrieu said he expected a full report about the power outage in the coming days.

"For us, the Super Bowl isn't over until the last visitor leaves town, so we're focused on continuing to show our visitors a good time," he said.

Whether or not the outage will prompt more far-reaching energy conversations is still unclear, but Forest Bradley-Wright, a senior program director for the Alliance for Affordable Energy who works in New Orleans, said it definitely highlighted the issue.

"For a half-hour, they were talking about something related to energy," he said.

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