Newshour tonight had a piece on rebuilding the electric infrastructure trashed by Ike. It began with a family in an undamaged suburban house almost a week after the storm, using candles and a camping stove for cooking. Interestingly, the housewife interviewed illustrated her main gripe as wondering every day where and whether they can get ice. A week after the storm, only about half of almost two million customers (I think this means people, not households/meters) have their power back. The show was mostly about how complete the electric system destruction was and how much has to be rebuilt, but I’m wondering about that family trying to function hauling ice in their car.
Here’s a generator that costs $350; another hundred bucks gets two five-gallon safety cans. I bet that looks like a mighty fine deal to a lot of those folks. If you’re careful about opening the fridge door as little as possible, and run the generator a few hours a day, ten gallons of gasoline will keep food cold for three or four days, with a couple of real lights in the evening (cfls, of course). The roads are open, most people have their cars, and they can drive to a functioning gas station every couple of days; what they don’t have is electricity and won’t for a long time.
Why doesn’t everyone in places liable to hurricanes and earthquakes, who isn’t really poor, and doesn’t live in an apartment, have a generator? Even one for every two houses would be a big help. Why hasn’t the market flooded the area with generators instead of all that ice? Why hasn’t FEMA been on the spot with trucks full of generators and gas cans for the grasshoppers, for sale at market price (maybe cheap for anyone whose house is less than X square feet, a crude means test)?
Safety note: RBC readers probably know all this, but I have to add this nanny-posting appendix: Do not store any gasoline in your house, any! These Darwin Award contenders got off very easy! If your water heater, or anything with a pilot light is in your garage, not there either! Gasoline vapor is heavier than air, and will flow down to the basement where your furnace is; if there are stairs from the garage down to the basement, no gas! Don’t store it in anything but a real, metal safety can! Don’t fill the can unless it’s sitting on the ground (not in your trunk, not your pickup bed)!
Be sure to put gas stabilizer in the gas cans each time you fill them, and cycle it (every few months, put it in your car and refill the cans). If you don’t keep the gas fresh, it will gum the carburetor of the generator terminally and you’ll be on the road for ice when you didn’t want to be. And of course, keep the generator empty; drain the tank and then run the engine dry after you use or test it.
Finally, don’t connect the generator to your house wiring unless you have, and know how to install and use, an interface kit. You run a real risk of knocking a lineman off his pole when he comes to hook you up; use extension cords.
Update:Andy S, grouchy perhaps because he just whacked his thumb putting up a picture, differs here.
Update 2: A reader points out that unless the gas station has power, and deliveries, the generator isn’t worth much, and points out the Florida now requires gas stations to have generators for this reason, which seems like a good piece of policy. But note also that if anyone has ice to sell, it’s probably a gas station/convenience store…