If you’ve been reading very long, you likely know that Mr. Andi is the head of small municipal utility, that he loves what he does for a living, and that in my former life I did the same kind of work. Twenty years after I first walked in the doors of Alabama Power Company, I’ve got a few things to say: this week’s Snippets are part primer, part tip sheet, and part rant from a former power engineer and long time power engineer’s wife.
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Having electricity to your house is a first-world necessity, yes, but … just like cars, air conditioners, your internet service, and pretty much everything else man-made, sometimes things go awry. You should not expect to have power 100% of the time. It’s just not possible. Electric utilities strive for zero outages – after all, they are losing money when a meter isn’t turning – but it’s an ideal, not a true possibility. Accept it. Be prepared. Yada yada yada.
Underground electric service ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, it’s much prettier to not have those power poles and overhead lines running down the street, but there’s a tradeoff: underground lines don’t last as long and when something goes wrong, they take a lot longer to fix. It’s not unusual to find power poles from the 1930s; the lifespan of underground cable is twenty-five years. You do the math.
When linemen get paid on the weekend when they aren’t on a job site, they aren’t “getting paid for doing nothing”. They’re getting paid to NOT go to their kid’s baseball tournament, NOT volunteer at their church fundraiser, NOT leave the city limits to run to the closest Home Depot, and NOT attend their 90 year old grandmother’s birthday party. In other words, they’re getting paid to wait around for a customer to call who’s having an outage and doesn’t want to wait until Monday to get their power back. I’m more than happy to sacrifice an extra penny or two each year for that, aren’t you?
Sometimes, they’re getting paid to check on a “live power line in the road” that actually belongs to the cable or phone company. Because for some reason, people always say a cable on the ground is a “live power line” but the poles that hold those power lines up in the air are “telephone poles.” To be fair, your utility doesn’t expect you to know the difference between cables. However…
Please call the utility who sends you a bill each month when you have a power outage. I can’t tell you how many times a local resident has gone to the trouble of looking up Mr. Andi’s email address, buried deep on the Mayberry website, to complain about their power being out, when they’re actually a customer of another local utility. My husband does not need to waste his time (and our family’s) answering messages from people who don’t know who their electric provider is.
No, your utility is not intentionally restoring your power last out of spite; there’s a method to the madness. Here’s a simplified explanation: You know those big erector-set looking things with lots of wires coming out that you see around town? Those are substations – think of them as giant switches – and the power that serves your house goes through one before it gets to you.
- Sometimes the breaker trips at the substation; if that’s where the problem is, they’ll “flip the switch”and get you back on.
- Sometimes, the problem is between your house and the substation, which may or may not be an easy fix (there are breaker-type things on the power lines, too, that trip when there’s trouble).
- Sometimes there are multiple problems in multiple locations – in that case, the biggest “chunks” get turned on first.
I can not stress this next point enough: there’s no point in flipping the switch closest to your house if the main switch at the substation and all the ones upstream from you aren’t “on.”
So, yes, often it is the same neighborhoods that get their power back last after storms, but it’s not because your utility hates you. It’s because you’re the last one on the line, or your power lines are inaccessible and take longer to repair, or a variety of other legitimate reasons.
Yes, you need to call when the power goes out. Depending on what the issue is, your utility might already know, but sometimes they don’t. If you want to keep your frozen stuff from melting, you need to tell someone there’s a chance that might happen.
And speaking of calling the power company, if you or someone in your family has a condition such that a loss of power would cause you a severe hardship or threaten your health, then for-the-love-of-Pete call the utility and let them know about it BEFORE a storm hits. They’ll mark it on their maps and do their best to get you on quickly (or notify you if it’s not possible).
It may come as a shock to some of you, but there are folks in the world who will (gasp!) embellish the truth about their circumstances if they think it’ll benefit them. If you call for the first time ever with A PERSONAL EMERGENCY! when half the town is out of power, you’ll look like one of Those People.
And, in the unlikely case you have a valid reason why you can’t be without power under any circumstances for any length of time, you need to pony up the money for a generator. (See #1.)
Utility workers are people, too, and they have families just like you. Middle-of-the-night calls are commonplace at my house. The only time Mr. Andi has ever NOT taken his work mobile phone on vacation was when we were on a cruise, because there was no phone service. He spent most of last Saturday afternoon answering phone calls and emails related to a surprise storm that popped up, and it didn’t make a difference to anyone that he was four hours away in a Hampton Inn, supposedly enjoying a weekend getaway with his family. When a hurricane heads our way, I’ll be a single parent securing the house and loading up kids, pets, and our most critical belongings to evacuate without him.
It’s frustrating to be without power for an extended period of time. It’s also frustrating to not have power and not see your spouse for days because he’s working day and night to get the power back on. But it’s part of the job, and we know it.
But what IS bad is to be the spouse of that man who is working his butt off for his neighbors and to see nasty comments on Facebook (misrepresenting the truth, no less) about that man and the hardworking men on his line crews who are forsaking their families to get the power back on for the hateful Facebooker.
That is all.
This post was inspired by and is linked to This Ain’t the Lyceum’s 7 Quick Takes.