By The Times editorial board

March 16, 2014

Californians may be inured to rolling blackouts that cut off their power for hours at a time, but imagine an outage that darkens the entire country — for more than a year. That nightmare scenario could happen if just a handful of crucial, heavy-duty electrical transformers are taken down, according to a confidential federal report disclosed last week by the Wall Street Journal. Federal regulators and the utilities’ trade association were outraged that the report was leaked, but the real outrage is that this vulnerability persists even though policymakers and industry executives have known about it for years.

The transformers at issue raise the voltage of the power generated so it can be transmitted across long distances. The size of overfed dumpsters, they are custom fitted into arrays in utility substations, often industrial or remote areas…

Given that there are tens of thousands of substations on the national grid, PG&E’s experience may not seem so alarming. But according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission study disclosed by the Journal, a few dozen of the substations are so important to the flow of energy that knocking out just nine of them would cause a metastasizing blackout that stretched from coast to coast. And replacement transformers for these substations can take more than a year to build, deliver and install, in part because most are made overseas.


Do you have what you need at your house to weather a power outage lasting more than a few hours?


2 thoughts on “GOT GENERATOR? What if all the lights go out?”
  1. If you have a gas only generator I suggest you install a propane conversion kit on your generator.

    P.S. Please don’t buy one of those kits that require the frame to be cut. I think that’s the dumbest design on the market

  2. You need to do a lot of study and planning before the need for a generator occurs. The last thing you need in sub zero temps is figuring out how to get things hooked up safely.

    This means figuring out the size of the generator needed, how you’ll actually get it started in cold weather (battery start), where you’ll run it to prevent yourself from getting carbon monoxide poisoning, how you SAFELY feed the power into the house, and how you’ll fuel the thing during a prolonged crisis.

    Even with all of my planning and actual running my house off the generator to test my plans, I’ve been bitten.

    Last fall after a monthly generator test to make sure it started, I had a problem. I took it to the local lawn mower repair shop whom told me the ethanol in the gas had gummed it up inside and I could have it cleaned or replaced. I opted for a replacement and all was well. It started just fine.

    A few weeks ago we lost power and it was the perfect time to use the generator. Everything seemed to work just fine (lights, TV, etc) until I tried to run the furnace. Wouldn’t run. Not good. Fortunately it wasn’t cold so not a problem. Oddly, the portable electric heaters would work.

    Turned out the generator was only putting out 95 volts and the speed needed to be adjusted to correct the voltage to 121 volts. Not a big problem unless it is cold and you NEED a furnace.

    So plan your power backup and actually do it running anything you think you might need. I run my generator each month and do a test of the house in the fall before winter gets here.

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