Friday, October 11, 2019

Powerless

I'm sure you've seen the headlines about California's ongoing power outages. They are planned and executed by the very people who we rely upon to bring us our power. It's a new strategy for the utility providers to do these planned shutdowns as a way to avoid the massive fires that begin during high wind situations. Those winds can cause transmission lines to fall or a tree branch in the millions of acres of forests all over our state to fall and hit one of those lines. Our provider here in northern California has had to make very costly payouts for the huge cost of human life and property over the past few years during what has come to be known as "fire season." Instead of upgrading their power line infrastructure, they chose to simply shut down power for their customers.

So, at 1:00 am on Wednesday morning we woke to total darkness in the house. Total. Even the streetlights in front and behind our house were dark. We  had been forewarned some time in the afternoon on Tuesday that there might in fact be a power shutdown. Emails from the company came to our inbox. Texts came on our phone. Then at 7:00 pm it said, "Shut down tonight. It may be as long as five days."

How does one plan for such a long-time event? Well, we had our newly purchased generator ready. We had plans for meals. But really there's no way to keep things powered for five days. That's simply crazy. We couldn't keep the refrigerator running for five days on the generator. Many gas stations need power to pump their gas, so it was unlikely that we could refill our gas cans if we ran out. We saw photos of cars lined up for blocks waiting to fill their tanks the day before the outage.

While the power was out I realized that this was unlike all the other power outage scenarios we had ever been in. We have experienced many days without power because of snowstorms in winter and raging fires in summer. During those times of disasters we could rely on the efforts of the utility company's workers to be out there doing their hard work for us. During this outage it was a disaster of their own making.
So, we waited. It was a beautiful warm sunny day. Our internet service provider had lost power as well, so we had no way to connect and read any of our favorite news or blogging sites. Our cell phone was working, but I never use it to connect to the internet.  We mostly use it for music or for when we're on the road. It was simply a quiet disconnected day. We were powerless. We walked to the co-op to see if there was any bread available. When we got there we were blown away by the number of people in the store. Every check out line had a cashier, and every line was long. The store was dark. There was no bread, no bagels. We left and walked home. We ran the generator a few times during the day and into the evening to keep the refrigerator at a good temp. Then we moved the most perishable items into the cooler with lots of ice for overnight.

At 2:30 am the power came back on. The utility company moved their disastrous disaster avoidance system south to other parts of California that went dark on their command. We walked back to the co-op in the morning sunlight. The photos are of what a good part of the store looked like. They lost so much of their perishable items. Lucky for us, though, they did have some freshly baked local bagels.

Fire season is not over yet.

34 comments:

  1. Suddenly a third-world problem visits the first world.

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    1. Paul-- I had the same thought during the darkness.

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  2. I hope you won't have many more outages, but it sounds like it might be something to expect. After Dorian went through, our grocery store looked much like yours -- all of the refrigerated and frozen food went into the trash. I've seen that happen several times over the years due to hurricanes. Makes for a lot of wasted food and also extra work for the staff. I assume there is some kind of insurance for such things, but who knows. Glad you have a generator now. I'm planning to buy one very soon.

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    1. bev-- It's the wasted food that really bothers me the most. We hardly have any frozen food and nothing canned. Everything we eat is perishable. A total bummer.

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  3. Gracious me, how terrible. Inconvenient isn't the word for it...and I'm glad that your power-outage was short...this time. I do hope that there will eventually be a safe and reasonable way to deal with those lines out in the woods!

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    1. Barbara-- The utility company would rather reward their investors than take care of their customers. Not a very good business model.

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    2. Welcome to the world of American capitalist free enterprise monopolies. Where was the regulatory agency when you needed them?

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    3. Mark-- Yes, I love your description: American capitalist free enterprise monopolies. A trumpian dystopia.

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  4. I've been reading about this in the NYT. I didn't realize it would be hitting your area -- for some reason I thought the affected areas were more inland. And I had no idea the outages could last as long as five days! That IS crazy. Surely they're going to work on updating and securing the power delivery system too, so this doesn't continue indefinitely?

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    1. updating the systems is going to take years. Californians are going to experience many more of these shutdowns until then.

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    2. Steve-- Up until the day before the outage, we were not on the map. Then, suddenly we were. Not a lot of time for planning. I'm hoping the utility company finds another way to deal with their infrastructure rather than create more unnecessary suffering.

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  5. Amazing experience. 5 days seems like a ridiculous length of time for a planned outage.

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    1. Colette-- It is ridiculous. I'm hoping this first run will be the last of it.

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  6. That's pretty scary. You had planned for such a situation but even that is not enough. You'd think that solutions could be found so that power is not turned off for 5 days.

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    1. Red-- We did plan ahead as much as we could, but not sure we could handle five days of it.

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  7. I grew up on an island where power outages happened regularly. They were wonderful times of family connection and conversation as there was nothing else to do on long dark candle lit nights. So the thought of power outages is almost nostalgic for me. Not that I want any such experience now, in my fifth floor apartment! Glad you got through it with equanimity.

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    1. 37paddington-- You remind me of when I was young and living in New Jersey. Big snow storms and power outages. We loved it! It meant no school and lots of fun. Now a power outage is a total bummer.

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  8. I was wondering if you had been affected. Glad you made it through OK but it is a challenge. I feel for those who rely on electricity for medical reasons. Hope that is the last one for you. Wonder if they have thought of moving the lines underground but I guess they are bankrupt from the last fires.

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    1. Patti-- I think about those people whose lives depend on electricity. This plan was really not such a good one. Yes, they declared bankruptcy, but not before rewarding their investors.

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  9. hmmm...lots of canned goods to keep in stock. Is your stove gas or electric? Sounds as if you planned as best you could. Did you hear about the fancy dinner at a Sonoma winery with PGE executives and their 'best customers'? That's what they are spending their money on at a time like this.

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    1. Tara-- This morning I asked Roger, "What foods are non-perishable? What are they talking about?" He said, "Canned goods." Yikes. We never buy things in cans, but now I think we will for earthquake preparedness and pge outages. Oh yes, I saw the headline about their fancy dinner. Such jerks.

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  10. To English ears that sounds totally outrageous; I've certainly never heard of anything like it over here. We have power cuts from time to time of course though they seem to be less frequent than they once were. They certainly caused chaos in the school where I worked as some children needed overnight enteral feeds, one needed frequent oxygen and of course electric wheelchairs needed charging. We had an emergency generator of course but it still caused problems. Mind you we had some good sing-songs and playing ghosts in the dark was always popular!

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    1. John-- It's outrageous for us here. We've never experienced a power company simply cutting power to a million people to avoid the fire hazards they themselves created. Schools closed here for the day. The modern world has some major flaws.

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  11. I did think of you when I read that was going to happen, I would have though that in California people would be investing in SOlar Panels to produce eletricity, I'm seriousley thing of doing it her. PS you can get solar cargers for you cellphones and laptops

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    1. Billy-- We have a plan to do solar, but we don't have good southern exposure in our current house for it to be useful. I've read that the way the utilities work here is that we would generate our own power during the day and in the evening the utility companies would supply. We were told the other day that even someone with solar panels on their roof lost power because the shutoff included their supply. Weird. I did hear about solar powered lights and chargers, and we'll definitely check those out.

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    2. I ahev a few solar light around our garden and paio

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  12. I wonder if you could join up with neighbours during such a long period taking turns with generators and sharing refrigerators and so on?
    Also, now is the time to run a fridge on solar panels!

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    1. Sabine-- We were going to charge our neighbor's phone for her, but she found a way to charge it at work. We talked about bringing some of her frozen stuff here, but thought to wait to see if the outage lasted more than 48 hours. I would love to run our fridge on solar!

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  13. Just read your comment on southern exposure re solar. You can put panels anywhere on your property where the sun hits, even on the ground at an angle. Our neighbours have them installed on their garden wall.

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    1. Sabine-- We're thinking about buying a house with better southern exposure. We're utterly committed to getting solar panels. We're going to have to figure out how to have power "off the grid" when the utility company cuts the lines.

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  14. Robin,. I read your comment about when you lived in NJ as a child and welcomed snow days, so did we when we lived there, thankfully never with a power outage. But to read this post that the electric company says power could be out for up to 5 days is so amazing. It's nice that you did some preparation in advance. We don't use frozen foods, but do buy perishables when on sale to freeze for later use. What a waste to see all those food products being unsaleable.

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    1. Beatrice-- I was trying to remember when we had a power outage, and seriously can only remember that big one that took out NYC and a whole bunch of the north east. We don't use frozen foods or canned, so we're going to have to learn how to plan for the powerless days of the future.

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