Tonight our monthly Salon discussion group met via Zoom.
Not surprisingly, most of the conversation centered around the recent ice storm and resulting power outages. We all shared our stories of how we're coping.
Here's some themes that emerged in the course of our 100 minute discussion.
How to prepare for no electricity. Some people favor going the green route. Others the fossil fuel route. Since we live in the country, with our nearest neighbor quite distant, I extolled the virtues of our 7,000 watt Honda generator, which naturally runs on gasoline.
One downside of a generator is noise. They aren't quiet, though smaller Honda generators make little noise. We have a transfer switch that enables various outlets/devices in our house to switch over to generator power when a cable is attached to an outside connector. The generator also powers our well pump.
But a generator isn't great to use in a city, unless you like annoying your neighbors. So the city dwellers in our group talked about solar-powered battery options. Of course, if there isn't much sunlight, recharging would be problematic. Tesla offers large batteries that can connect to their electric cars, if I have this right.
On a smaller scale, there are batteries (we have a Goal Zero one) that, once charged, can power a cell phone, computer, and such for quite a while.
It was agreed that having a working fireplace or wood stove is a great idea, though you need a decent supply of wood. A pellet stove can be installed either as a freestanding stove or as a fireplace insert. They require electricity, but not a whole lot. Just a few hundred watts, I believe, which could be supplied by a small outdoor gas generator and an extension cord.
With all the fallen trees and branches from the ice storm, many homes have a plentiful supply of wood. Having that available to burn during the next power outage is a good idea, assuming someone has a fireplace or wood stove.
Independence versus reliance on society. Most of our group lives in single family homes, while several live in apartments. One of the apartment dwellers made an interesting point.
Rather than everybody figuring out on their own how to survive without electricity, that effort would be better spent on working on a societal level to make it less likely that power outages will occur. For example, electrical lines could be underground rather than strung along poles next to or under trees.
Amazingly, several people who were children in Europe during World War II said that power never went off during air raids. I couldn't resist saying, "Sounds like PGE wasn't operating in England or Germany."
Their point was that it is possible to make electrical systems much more resistant to outages. In modern Europe, virtually all power is underground. And people recalled that in their younger days, power outages seemed to be less common than now. The rise of giant profit-driven utility companies could be a reason for this.
I said that today I'd talked with a neighbor during an afternoon dog walk. He told me that he'd worked for a citizen utility in Iowa akin to Salem Electric. Ice and snow storms are common in Iowa. When they occurred, crews from citizen utilities in neighboring states would rush in to help.
A balance needs to be struck, I guess. Each of us should prepare for a power outage, and we also need to urge politicians to spend tax money on measures to prevent outages from occurring. Personally, I'd like to see PGE broken up into a bunch of smaller citizen-owned companies like Salem Electric.
One of our members lives in West Salem. She said her power was restored just a few hours after it went out. Me, I have PGE and am still waiting for electricity to come back on eight days after the storm.
Staying in touch with others. My wife and I are stressed from our lengthy power outage. But we felt much better after our group meeting this evening. We humans need other people. Isolation is bad for all sorts of reasons.
A couple in our group live in a close-knit neighborhood. After the storm hit, they said that phones (land line variety, since cell phones weren't working well, if at all) were ringing many times a day as a neighbor would either express a need of their own, or what someone else needed.
In this fashion people were able to band together to help each other get through the ice storm aftermath. Those with chain saws aided those who didn't have one. People who had something to share gave it to people in need of it. Self-reliance is fine. Community support is even better.
For a few days after the storm hit, our cell phone coverage was almost nonexistent. We had to walk up our long driveway to get a decent signal. For almost a week, our land line phone didn't work. This produced a feeling of isolation in us.
Which gets back to the notion that our society needs to invest in ways to keep people connected, both during emergencies and at other times.
Cellular systems should be made more resilient so cell phones aren't useless after an ice storm. Ditto for internet systems like the one offered by Comcast. I noted that it made a big difference when our Starlink satellite internet system continued to work just fine after the storm.
It felt good to be able to keep up with the news, Facebook, Twitter, and such. For several days we couldn't talk to people by phone. Keeping in touch via broadband raised my spirits in the ice storm aftermath. Yet many people in the United States don't have access to fast broadband.