When the Power Goes Off
Events of the past few weeks have again reinforced the awareness that as a society we are extremely vulnerable to extended electrical power outages.
In my world, three recent events have helped to focus my attention and concern. At the Annual General Meeting of Steinbach Housing, Inc. on June 27th, it was reported that a faulty stand-by generator had recently been replaced with a new one. Shortly after the announcement, the power went out, leaving the gathering in semi-darkness. “Will the new, standby generator work?” could be heard here and there. Fortunately the power came back on in about a minute so the standby system did not get a workout.
Then about a week ago a severe storm passed through Prince Albert, Saskatchewan where my son is working at Camp Kadesh. In that case power was restored a day and a half later, just in time to begin their annual staff training sessions.
Last week Friday, my sister flew home to Virginia after spending a week with family here in Manitoba. She made it as far as Richmond and then was advised to seek shelter from the “derecho” storm instead of attempting the one-hour drive to her home. She barely made it into a motel before the deluge hit. As we all heard in the news, electrical power went down for three million people. Four days later, 1.2 million people still were without power, and that amid sweltering heat.
All this makes me wonder what impact an extended power outage would have on us in Southeastern Manitoba. Of course the winter season is of greatest concern, but our normal lives would come to a virtual standstill during any season of the year should our electrical power system fail for more than a few hours.
Most of us don’t want to think about how vulnerable our power supply really is and don’t make even minimal plans for life without electricity. There is a collective denial among us that extended power outages could happen where we live. We simply choose to believe that when the lights go out, they will be back on shortly. Sometimes that happens. What if it doesn’t?
Larger institutions in our area place their hope on stand-by generators. These are good for short-term outages, but are less reliable when the power stays off for extended periods of time. And even so, these generators do not bring power to the larger population in the area.
A sustainable solution to such an eventuality has become quite elusive because we have built dependency on electrical power into the fabric of our modern life styles. Our grandparents survived quite well without electricity and so could we if we put our minds to it. But we cannot ‘flick a switch’ to erase such dependency. We have to think long and hard about how to minimize our dependence on electricity.
The question is whether we have the courage and willingness to change our lifestyles to reduce the vulnerability we now live with.