"Blackouts not due to grid stress..." says Huntsville Utilities, "but A/C load is going to be the key". Conservations and Frustrations.

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Summary: After a week (give or take) without power in Madison County, a return (howeveve brief) to such a state caused some to get a bit nervous. While most of us Madisonians are aware of the need to conserve until the power is stabilized, there isn't a whole lot of definite answers. And, well, some stores don't give a damn which makes it all the more frustrating.

BLOT: (12 May 2011 - 12:38:07 PM)

"Blackouts not due to grid stress..." says Huntsville Utilities, "but A/C load is going to be the key". Conservations and Frustrations.

Partially posting this to share this Huntsville Times (via al.com) article with you: Huntsville Utilities says grid fragile, but no blackouts expected. For those not around this neck of the woods: a primer/reminder. On April 27, a huge amount of tornadoes and strong storms came through the top half of Alabama (as well as other areas of the South-East United States). At almost the very last moment, something like 5:15pm with the storms clearing out about 6:00pm (CST), they smashed through a significant chunk of our power grid. The total count of people without power was something around or above 500,000 people. It took them days to get power back on in Madison County, where I live. By some strange fluke, Sarah and I were in a tiny area that got power back fairly early. As in about 1:30am or so Sunday morning. It wasn't, say, the most stable of power and there were a few brownouts and such, but it was a bit strange. Most of the region came online Monday and Tuesday.

The important thing to be aware of, perhaps, is that only something like 25% of the grid is restored, actually, with reworking of the grid granting us the power right now (link goes to another HT article on al.com, though wary the strange Kobe beef metaphor at the top...I'm not sure where they are going with that). Because of that, we have been asked to conserve by keeping the A/C turned up (or down, or...you know, to a higher temperature, whichever that is) to 78-80; by not using large appliances in the afternoon; and by keeping lights and non-essential electronics in check. And by we, I am probably referring to the handful of residents who are conservation minded, because Sarah and I have had quite a few chances to rant about the way that many, but not all, businesses act as though power will be permanently cancelled in a few days and so they must use it while they got it.

Not only is the city lit up so bright that we cannot see stars in a time when we are supposed to be cutting back (if that's cutting back, presumably full power would blot out the Sun); but stores like Best Buy have every diplay model on and running demos, with A/C blasting down to keep everything a balmy 67 degrees (can't risk computer geeks and couch potatoes bursting out in sweat, I guess). Eh. I kind of dig it. If people walked into Best Buy and half the display models were off and it was 74+ degrees, they would probably consider the merchandise shabby. Or, maybe even worse, they would understand the potential futility of getting sweet new electronics. Still. The idea that whole households are rearranging their schedule to wash clothes (or in our case, dishes) late at night and are just putting up with the heat in the afternoon sun sours a bit when you realize it is just to keep the grid stable enough so stores can sell another phat 54" plasma screen TV.

Anyhow, rants aside, when power went out in a section of Madison County (I'm not sure of the extent, but it was included a fair sized swath of Huntsville, Madison, and outlying areas), one of the immediate responses was that it might be caused by stressing the grid. Sarah said our local NRP station even had a little finger-wagging about the need to conserve (I did not hear it, so I'm not sure the extent of it). The very first article linked above says that's not the case, though conservation is important. I'm picturing what my first words would be if my power went back off and I wasn't sure if this was an afternoon thing or a "five to seven more days" kind of thing. They would not be printable in a Charles Dickens novel, that's for d——d sure.

By the way, I just want to go ahead and brag about the business like our nearby Walgreens that seem to be trying to play the by the conservation game as best they can. Driving by last night, they had their outer lights limited and going in the other day suggested their A/C wasn't running full blast like Best Buy's (or god, Target's, whose A/C was blowing so hard on Sunday that walking about twelve feet in front of the store meant that I was walking in air 10 degrees cooler and the blast from the A/C caused my shirt to blow). I imagine it's mostly the little guys making the effort, but I have to say, this is why I shop at the little guys. If you do find a store that is taking a bit of a hit to play nice on the power grid, probably a personal nice word is in order. It sucks for everyone, the past few weeks have sucked for everyone, but at least it seems to be finally almost over.



Written by Doug Bolden

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