December 18, 2006
Demographics of power outages
Well, dang. On Saturday we had a holiday open house, which of course we'd planned long before it was all, like, Seattle and the Blustery Day. We crossed our fingers and hoped for power. We got a break at my house, so were able to cook (and stay warm), but it remained cold and dark at Sarah's house, where the party was taking place. What the hell, we set up for the party anyway with camping lanterns and candles, and it all worked out quite well. We had fewer attendees than we'd originally counted on, of course, but a surprising number of people did show up (a surprising number of people found the place, which was a challenge in itself, considering there were no streetlights), and everyone was in quite good spirits. One factor that helped was that the more people showed up, the warmer it got.
A couple of lessons for us. One was that conviviality is a state of mind. The other is that people were quite happy with what was on offer, in spite of the long list of culinary offerings and activities that we had to forgo due to circumstances.
The big ice-breaking (haha) topic of conversation was "Do you have power?" which inevitably led to the question "Where do you live?" We were way at the south end of the Seattle area, and folks who'd made the trek from the north reported either no outage or a quick restoration of power. This led to some mock commentary about how we poor folks were going to be last to get power back, haha, isn't that funny?
Boy, little did we know. The Seattlest blog posted a map with commentary that I'm going to swipe outright (map, not commentary). Orange indicates outage; white indicates power. We were essentially at the bottom middle of the orange.
The Stranger posted a musing about this (linked from the Seattlest blog), where the comments are the interesting part.
I doubt that there's any real story here, as in, City Light favoring the more affluent neighborhoods. As various commenters noted, it could be the result of a less fragile electrical infrastructure in some areas, of the volume of reports and complaints in certain areas, or -- this one I believe -- of favoring commercial areas and areas where traffic density made driving dangerous without traffic lights.
Still, the map does look bad. Not as bad it does for outlying areas; the people who will surely be the last to have power restored are those in far-flung rural areas.
The discussion I'm interested to hear is at what point it becomes worthwhile for the power company (companies) to retrofit underground power lines or implement some other sort of mitigation strategy such that the power does go out anytime there's a stiff breeze. This must have cost the power companies millions and millions of dollars. And that doesn't count the probably inevitable lawsuits. For example, the Seattle Times could not publish the paper on Friday, and one can only imagine the loss of ad revenue a week before Christmas, and I'm sure there's been discussion (if not at the paper, then elsewhere) about recouping costs.
This could also prove to be Mayor Nickels's undoing, the way Daly was ultimately held responsible in Chicago for the big winter freeze of ... uh ... whenever that was in the 70s. More likely, however, is that this disaster will get the usual Seattle treatment of much hand wringing and absolutely no action beyond some shouting at a city council meeting.
Makes a body want to live off the grid at times, I swear.