Sunday, July 1, 2012

17. Friendly Reminder: Electricity is Vital

The topic for this post had been born yesterday after seeing a few posts on a football message, complaining about the power being out and mentioning the local utility.  The topic hit home harder after seeing a Facebook post from my mother pleading for help for my grandparents and aunt and uncle who are without power and may remain so for an unknown amount of time, up to several weeks.  I hate that I am about 15 hours away from them and don't feel like I can do much of anything to help.  They actually own 2 generators as a backup for when they lose power, but they are both presently out of commission.  Purchasing electrical generators in the region where they live is presently not a possibility.  A tractor trailer carrying generators overturned earlier this morning on I-77.  My grandparents use a well for their drinking water, so having access to electricity is quite vital. 

Things are so bad that President Obama has declared an emergency in West Virginia.  Additional problems within my grandparents' area include the fact that gas station pumps require electricity to pump gasoline.  I heard that lines are about 2 hours long to get fuel at one station that actually had a backup generator.  Also, credit/debit card machines require electricity, so some of the establishments that have been able to remain open are presently only able to accept cash.  Luckily, hospitals generally have reliable backup sources of power. 

In checking Twitter last night as I ate some BBQ (my favorite "food group"), I saw about 4 or 5 Tweets from Entergy wishing safety to their workers headed up to help restore power within the AEP service territory, but I didn't think too much about it again until seeing the plea from my mother.  If I'm not mistaken, this outage is also affecting people in the town where Atomic Insights author Rod Adams lives, Lynchburg, VA.  I have yet to get a reply from tweeting Rod, but perhaps he is simply doing something else rather than disconnected due to lack of power.

The theme of this posting is not to say anything bad about American Electric Power for only generating 6% of their electricity via nuclear (although they should strongly consider increasing that percentage in the future).  My point here is to simply re-state just how vital electricity is to modern American life and to encourage people not to take it for granted and to realize that providing electricity is neither a trivial nor simple task.  These outages are due to storms affecting transmission assets rather than inadequacy of generation assets, but in other areas within the U.S., utilities ARE actually calling on customers to cut down on usage to help out (and prevent potential outages).

Providing sufficient and reliable electricity requires a great deal of planning and investment in infrastructure.  I am greatly annoyed by people complaining about possibly having to pay a bit for Construction Work In-Progress (CWIP) on their electrical bills.  Do those people not realize that their electricity doesn't simply magically appear?  I am also annoyed by people suggesting that reducing energy usage is a worthy goal.  Increasing access to non-human sources of energy has very likely been the greatest contributor to increasing people's freedom within the past several centuries.  I would find it difficult to be convinced that reversing that trend would be anything other than amoral.

There are hundreds of thousands of people without power at the moment within the region stretching from the U.S. midwest through the mid-Atlantic.  While that is especially sad because so many aspects of people's lives within those regions have become reliant on access to reliable electrical power, how much more sad is the situation for the approximately 2 billion people in the world that basically never have access to electrical power?

Now that I am pretty well settled into my new location and job, I should be able to post more regularly.

8:00 pm Eastern update:
Rod Adams is indeed without power.  My other friend who lives near Lynchburg (but about 25 miles away) had his power restored by about 7:30 pm yesterday.  My uncle took one of the broken generators to a lawn mower repairman, who was able to get it running, so they should have some power by now.

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