Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Southern California Edison and the Accouterments of Civilization

We take civilization for granted.

Los Angeles recorded an all-time temperature high of 113° yesterday – the hottest day ever since records were collected beginning in 1877. It might have been a little higher, but the gauge broke. Tustin, where I reside, was a few degrees cooler.

Southern California was cool this summer while the rest of the country suffered.

Weather extremes tax utility systems. Hurricanes, wind storms, and deep freezes snap transmission lines. Heat waves can also blow lines. Unlike a decade ago, California had sufficient electricity; the problem was delivering it to consumers over aging infrastructure.

The power lines behind our house snapped at 4:30pm yesterday, when the temperature was around 100°. Power was cut off to 6 houses, including, of course, ours.

There is nothing like laying on a chair in the back yard looking up to the starry sky on a quiet, clear night with no wind. We often forget the beauty of nature. The temperature had dropped to 95°.

All the usual customs of civilization were missing. No TV; forget the DVR. No football game, baseball game, reality show, news, sitcom, or drama. No radio – absolutely no idea where the transistor radio has been packed. No hot food, unless you fry it on the walkway. Can’t even microwave. No internet – the wifi on the laptop runs off the router from the desktop.

Reading hard copy, books, magazines, and newspapers, is by candlelight and flashlight.

And no air conditioning!

Cities, such as LA, open up "cooling centers" for the homeless and those lacking air conditioning on these hot days. Society does not want a repeat of hundreds of elderly dying in Chicago a few years ago, and also in European heat waves.

We had it lucky. An Edison worker came out at 6:45, after several calls about downed lines, and cut the live wires and assessed the situation.

At 11, while trying to drift to sleep, a second Edison crew arrived with chain saws to facilitate access to the lines. They were very conversational. They finally left.

A third Edison crew arrived a couple of hours later; power was restored by 4:30AM – 12 hours after the outage.

We were lucky. As of this evening 15,000 were still lacking power in Edison’s service area, and thousands more in LA’s DWP territory. As of Tuesday evening, 775 customers in Tustin lacked power

We are exceedingly lucky with a 12 hour disruption compared to our valiant soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, often struggling in 120° weather, carrying loads of 50-60 pounds for extended periods.

Whatever Edison’s workers are paid, they earned it last night, just as utility workers in general perform Herculean acts in storms, such as blizzards and hurricanes. City, county, and state road crews more than earn their pay in clearing roads after severe winter storms, including blizzards. Highway crews are not overpaid for working on road construction in 100° weather, often in high humidity.

Firefighters, with their 50 pound loads, fight fires under horrendous conditions – blizzards, heat waves; Santa Ana winds, flooding. Firefighters were fighting a 25 acre wildfire in Thousand Oaks in 110. Where’s there firefighters, you will often find EMT’s and police.

No, we were fortunate.

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