Credit crisis dims the lights for power industry

Great Falls Montana: As workers scramble to build an $800 million coal-fired power plant on a patch of farmland here, a crisis that began on faraway Wall Street threatens to stretch America's power supplies to the brink — driving up prices and laying the stage for future shortages.

The power industry is under extraordinary financial pressure just five years after North America suffered its worst blackout ever, when rolling outages turned out the lights on 50 million people. Even before the extent of the global credit crisis was fully known, the nation's largest power providers warned of even bigger blackouts to come with the power grid under ever growing strain.

The industry has faced criticism for blackouts, but it also faces opposition to new new plants and stringing new power lines.

With the economy teetering toward recession, it may face its toughest obstacle yet.

If credit woes put the brakes on scores of proposed plants, observers say a shift to other, more expensive fuels could end up soaking customers. The alternative is more frequent and potentially extended outages.

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