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What About This? By Wayne William Cipriano

By Wayne William Cipriano

Well, just like you, I’m sure glad that’s over. In February? Just a couple of weeks before Spring? WOW!

There is no way we can compare what we went through with those folks who had it really bad. Texas, where one of our daughters lives, got smacked deluxe. She hasn’t gotten her electric bill yet so she doesn’t know how much of a whack she’s going to get. She says there may be some state-wide relief of those extraordinarily high bills.

As you may have heard, Texas is the only state, I believe, that has no interstate connections for its electric grid so it does not have to abide by any Federal rules for stuff like maximum power available, maintenance requirements, reserve power rules, and so on. While that may sound good, Texas cannot “borrow” electric power from states not as badly struck because its not hooked up to them.

We can’t remember what our electric rates were when we lived in Texas. It may be they were, and possibly remain very low compared to other states – maybe because Texas can ignore Federal requirements and therefore pass lots of savings along to their customers.

Now that the laughter has subsided a question remains. A serious one. Do you think it is better to pay say 5% higher electric rates than folks next door pay for say twenty years and be assured that the electricity will never stop flowing, or do you think it is better to keep that extra 5% cost in our wallets but lose power for four or five days in a row every twenty years or so?

I’m sure Texans, like all of us, want safe, reliable, cheap electric power. And safe power is mandatory. Period. But then what is more valuable to us and to Texans, reliable or cheap?

Sine the telephone lines around here were put in the ground we have had only a very few interruptions in service, even though the wires still travel over a mile in the air on poles from the buried “base line” to our house, and never caused by a failure of those wires on poles.

Nowadays, when everyone and his brother have cellular phones, and fewer and fewer people have landline telephones, can telephone companies that provide hard line telephone service look back on the cost of burying those telephone wires as a wasted expense?

Will there be some breakthrough in the science of wireless electrical broadcast power making those power lines we see every day unnecessary and any cost of burying electrical cables an extravagant expense?

What about all those folks using photovoltaic power captured from the sun using those blue panels? Will these inventions create real competition for the power companies? What about those other forms of “home grown” electrical power like windmills, methane capture, small waterfalls, etc? And what happens when those laggards in the electrical battery industry get with the program and develop storage devices that would speak to the reliability questions that many of these alternate sources of electrical energy highlight?

People who milk large herds, people who need electrical power for devices that keep them alive, television movie junkies like myself aside, what do “regular” people prefer – and what will they pay for?

In Texas, I’ve heard there was a similar electrical failure twenty or so years ago, and then another one, due to a hurricane I think, ten years before that. So, the people of Texas have had that choice, between reliability and cash, and evidently decided to take their chances.

As we all know, electrical transmission lines can be buried as most of our telephone wires now are. That would keep them safe from almost any disaster. That would not, of course, protect the switching and step-down stations but they could be protected by housing. And those things would cost a boatload.

Is it better for those who are existentially dependent on electricity to own personal electrical generators for emergencies? Could the rest of us do so as well? Could we spend that 5% savings on our electric bills to buy personal generators? Sure we could. Would we? Of course not. We’d pretty much throw the dice and hope for the best like we always do.

Like a lot of residents of Douglas County we live far enough from town that terrible weather causing a loss of electric power (and not water from our well) is a very serious problem. We have a generator that we purchased 25 years ago or more that has never run in an emergency. We have never needed it. And while I should fire it up once a year, just in case, there is always other stuff to do (and more fun) than to fool with a quarter-century old machine that I barely understand and for which I have no owner’s manual.

Maybe we should step back from the problems, the very serious problems that going without electricity for several days has shown us once again, and spend a little time comparing what we have not with what a lot of others not that far away from us have.

Do we want improvements and reliability guarantees? Sure we do. Are we willing to pay “extra” for them? Well,….. Besides, what happened to Roxanne in Texas didn’t happen to us in Missouri, right? And it might never happen to us, right here, in our lifetimes. And if it does, how serious would it be?

So, do we ante up the extra 5% or not? What do you think?