Recent winter storms that raked the northeast also inflicted misery a little closer to home. I had no idea that the ice storm that passed through southeastern Michigan left hundreds of thousands without power there until I happened to see a message from Dan, KB6NU that his power had been off three days. This immediately brought back dreadful memories of a 2005 ice storm that left us without power here for eight days.
In situations like this it’s normal to think about ways to mitigate, or at least minimize the impact from such events, however, there are really few ideal solutions. Having a generator might be helpful though when we went through the long ordeal of ’05 there was no gasoline or kerosene to be purchased because fueling stations were also without power and couldn’t pump the liquid gold. And those that had some alternate means of pumping would only take cash payments because all the credit card support systems were down too.
It was fairly easy to plan and plot for future outages while the power was off. There was little else to do. But once the power had been restored for a few days those plans began to fade. And when all the news sources started referring to it as a “once in a lifetime event” it became even easier to forget about the cost and effort required to provide some sort of workaround to temporary power outages due to freak storms.
The great fear has been that these things seem to happen most often during winter weather. After all, if the power goes off during mild weather it might be inconvenient and induce boredom. We might even lose everything in the freezer. Still, our survival seems likely. But when it’s seriously cold outside a power outage can become a deadly episode. It’s not just about cozy comfort or an internet connection. Without power we can’t heat our home and that’s bad news.
Given that, my first thought was the addition of an alternate heat source and stockpiling fuel for it. I looked at a lot of combination wood and grain burning stoves. Our home is small and almost any of them could keep the place warm. But like I said, the further removed from the power outage the less interested I became in solving the problem.
I never did install an alternate heat source or a generator.
Now, almost a quarter century later those old notions of doing something are stirring again. Not just because of recent events in Michigan, but because the reliability of our power system has been declining and these aren’t always weather related. More frequent outages, often for no apparent reason have left me a little unsettled. I’m losing faith in the system.
We experienced some bitterly cold weather over the Christmas holiday in 2022. The local power company had been sending a steady stream of text messages that weekend warning of possible outages and requested everyone use less electricity. In particular they wanted us to suspend using electric ovens for cooking. Their warnings made it abundantly clear that they weren’t only worried about the wind knocking trees into power lines, but that electric demand could exceed capacity.
This is worrisome on its own, but when you add to it the more frequent and intense storm activity that we have seen in recent years, it doesn’t inspire confidence about the future.
Assuming I could stay warm and fed I think I could learn to live without electricity. A small off-grid cabin in Michigan’s UP sounds pretty good to me, but that’s the sort of dream that’s better suited to a 30 year-old man than someone over sixty who likely would benefit from closer proximity to medical care.
Scratch that crazy notion off the list for me.
I would gladly invest in a natural gas generator system if we planned to stay here the rest of our lives, but that’s not the plan. On the other hand, maybe I should go that route anyway and hope it adds enough value when we sell this place in two years to recoup that investment?
However this plays out, I’m firmly convinced we will experience more frequent and longer power outages over the next 20 years and sitting in the dark and freezing to death isn’t the kind of future I ever dreamed about. I’m going to do something about it, if I can just figure out what that something should be.