Along with a disturbingly large number of other people, my wife and I have endured a full week of no electricity after the February 12 ice/snow storm devastated much of Oregon.
How much longer will our electricity be off? Starting last Monday, Portland General Electric, or PGE, has considered this to be a secret not to be disclosed to their customers.
Whenever I log into my PGE account, I'm met with a cryptic "not available at this time" in the Estimated Time On part of our outage report.
OK, I can understand that PGE wouldn't be able to provide its customers with a valid estimate of how long their power will be off in the early days of a widespread outage.
But even after a week, PGE still won't tell people how much longer they have to put up with all the inconveniences that come with having no electricity.
This is causing a lot of frustration.
I know, because regularly I pick up my iPhone, click on Tweetbot, a Twitter app, and search for tweets matching "@PortlandGeneral."
Maybe a quarter of tweets with this tag praise PGE for restoring the person's power.
The rest run the gamut from mildly critical of PGE to full-on rants about how horrendously awful PGE's response to the storm has been -- both in terms of turning electricity back on and PGE's dreadful communications strategy, which seems focused on keeping customers as much in the dark as possible regarding when their power will return.
This afternoon, though, I noticed a tweet from PGE that seemed promising.
On Thursday, I think it was (yesterday), PGE announced that it expected to have power restored to 90% of its customers by Friday. This is what the Storm Restoration Update page on the PGE web site says.
Regardless of the number, the important thing is that thousands of customers are going to be in the unfortunate 10%, which includes me, since our power is still off.
On that same web page, PGE described how many customers would lack power after Friday night and where the longest waits to have power restored would be.
This certainly implies -- in fact it basically says it outright -- that the 15,000 customers who haven't had their power turned on by Friday night, tonight, and don't live in the areas listed above, won't have to wait as long as the people who do live in those areas.
UPDATE: I just came across a PGE tweet that said "As of 5pm today, 54,900 customers are still without power." So unless a lot of customers got their power restored between 5 pm and midnight today, PGE underestimated how many customers would lack power on February 19 by 39,900. Sure doesn't make me feel any more confident in PGE's competence.
So, yay, I thought after reading this. My wife and I live in rural south Salem near the Ankeny Wildlife Refuge. We're nowhere near the areas hit hardest -- Silverton, Woodburn, West Linn, Canby, etc.
I looked forward, then, to learning from the new map when we'd have electricity again.
That hope was dashed when I actually looked at the map. The title above the map was a giveaway: Check Your Zone. I didn't want to check a zone. I wanted to check our specific outage area, our local neighborhood which had been showing 503 customers without electricity.
This is a screenshot of the overall area, showing the Legend. Light blue has an estimated restoration time of up to 3 days; yellow, up to five days; brown, up to nine days.
The map looks much different when it is zoomed in on my iPhone. This is Salem.The whole city of Salem appears to be in the yellow "up to 5 days" category. The purple dots show individual outages. I'm assuming the mass of dots obscuring much of Salem is covering up yellow.
How useful is this information? So minimal I'd call it useless.
People want to know when the electricity for their home or business will return, not the maximum amount of time it will take to restore power in all parts of Salem, which could range from one day (Saturday) to five days (Wednesday).
Likewise, here's the screenshot for my area. Our house is a bit north and east of Spring Reservoir, better termed Spring Lake. Our neighborhood is in the brown "up to nine days" zone. Again, though, this information is useless.
Here's a zoomed-out screenshot of the brown area. It's huge. There's no way every customer currently lacking power in this area is going to wait a similar length of time to have their electricity back on.
Thus PGE has produced a map that contains essentially zero useful information. It seems to be a way for PGE to say "we're providing customers with an estimate of when their power will be restored" without actually doing this.
Also, saying "up to nine days" is meaningless. A neighbor talked with a PGE employee today who was inspecting a downed line in our neighborhood. Reportedly the PGE guy said we might have power restored as early as tomorrow.
That's within the "up to nine days," because tomorrow would be one day. But one day is much different from nine days.
Botton line: PGE is persisting in its screwed-up post-storm communications strategy -- which is aimed at giving customers as little useful information about their specific outage as possible. I sure hope legislators and state officials conduct hearings into how PGE has handled getting electricity back for its customers.
I have many questions about this, as I'm sure others do also.
Lastly, the conflict between this map and the list of hardest hit areas listed on the PGE web site -- Woodburn, Silverton, West Linn, Canby, etc. -- is huge. Most of those "hardest hit" areas are shown in the same color as Salem, yellow, up to five days restoration time.
So PGE is saying one thing at the top of that web page, then it is saying another thing in the map further down the page. Like I've been saying, the PGE communications strategy is so bad, it would be comical if being without electricity weren't so serious.