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Friday, December 1, 2023

Shucking Oysters: Power Outages

Aaah Winter. Atmospheric rivers. Gale force winds. Dark and stormy nights. Power outages. No matter how many outages my partner and I have gone through, we are never, ever prepared. Having lived on Hornby for over 28 years, we’ve experienced our share of power outages, from a few hours to over a week. You’d think we’d get it by now. But no, every year, the first outage, we aimlessly grope in the dark trying to find some source of light. 

After one of our driest summers on record, be forewarned, there will be more frequent climate-related power outages. We’ve all noticed the stressed out trees everywhere. Not a comforting sight. Weakened by drought and climate-related parasites, trees are becoming more and more susceptible to wind and weight from rain and snow. Nina Bassuk, professor of urban horticulture at Cornell University, explains that climate change can kill tree cells through a confluence of stressors. “It’s not like an animal, which dies when you pierce the heart — trees die cell by cell,” she says. 

If a tree falls on Denman, Hornby will not only hear it, we will often feel it too. We are connected, strangely (or shall, I say, weirdly). Not like an umbilical cord, more like one of those 16-foot retractable dog leashes. BC Hydro forgets that we have a distant attachment to each other. Last weekend’s outage on Hornby was nine hours (November 4: 2:29 am to 1:30 pm). Apparently, we are so chill that no one called Hydro, so they fixed Denman and went their merry way. But we won’t take it personally, the Hornby ferry wasn’t running anyways until later because of the storm. 

Every year the first power outage, my partner and I go through the same routine. “Where did you put the flashlights?” “Why would I know?” And then finally, we find one. Turn it on, flicker, flicker, black. Dead batteries. At least we know where they are, in the cabinet drawer in the living room with Colonel Mustard. It never ceases to amaze me during outages, how I suddenly have no idea about our furniture layout. It’s as if someone rearranged the entire house overnight. Eventually, we find the six flashlights. “Now, where’s the lantern?” 

The best thing we ever invested in was a propane stove/oven. In fact, we love her so much, that she has a name: Gretchen. Power outage? Whatever. We can cook, bake, and even make toast with those metal camper thingies that you put on the burner. Dirty dishes are an issue. Depending how long the power is out, we just hide them in the oven. The refrigerator. Just open for a few seconds, a little peek, that’s it. In fact, the rule should be that you can’t open it unless you know what you are getting out. This will prove to be challenging, if you have a refrigerator like ours; we have no idea what’s in there, let alone the vegetable drawers. Fact: An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for only about four hours. An unopened freezer for 24 to 36 hours.  

When the power outage goes on longer than a day or two, is when our true personalities seem to come out. My partner likes to lie on the couch and call Hydro for updates every hour or so, until the power comes back on. I get restless and want to get out and go storm watching. Some people stay in bed and pretend all is well. Some stand for hours staring out their windows wondering when, when? Others just carry on as if it is just another day. Who are you? 

I also get power outage brain, where I totally dumb down. How many times can you turn on the bathroom switch before you remember that the power has been off for 37 hours? A lot apparently. Or run the tap water and quickly turn it off as if you’ve been tasered. And is there no better sound than the din of diesel generators in the distance? 

The year-round incessant cutting, trimming and chipping by the arborists isn’t cheap. BC Hydro spends more than $50 million a year on vegetation maintenance. In its 2022 Revenue Requirements Application to the BC Utilities Commission, BC Hydro has requested an additional $25 million for vegetation management, bringing the total budget to $74.4 million. Perhaps they should be looking seriously at the cost benefit analysis of burying the lines versus maintaining above-ground lines. In the US, one utility company, PG&E, are now seeing that the costs of maintaining lines above-ground are equal to burying below ground. 

In the meantime, maybe I’ll finally order that NOAA/AM/FM Weather, Solar, Crank, 3-Mode Flashlight, Reading Lamp, SOS Alarm, and Compass for Home Power Failure and Outdoor, Hurricanes,Tornadoes, Emergency Crank Radio.

Author: TIG

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