La Verne Magazine
Powering Our Society
by Agke Grow
photography by Kati Kelly
Rising above the city, electricity towers provide modern society with the
energy it needs to function. Grocery stores, airports, gas stations and
banks are just a few of the businesses that depend on electricity to function.
It is seven in the evening, cold and windy. People have just finished
dinner and are relaxing in front of the television, watching their favorite
shows. Some are wrapped up in the comfort of an armchair, reading. Still
others are at the field, playing ball, despite the inclement weather. Suddenly,
everything goes black. The television turns off. The words in the book are
suddenly unintelligible. The field is too dark, and the ball is suddenly
invisible. The power has gone out, and life has ground to a halt.
In today's technological society, electricity is essential to our lifestyle.
Electricity keeps our roads lit and regulates the traffic. Electricity keeps
the food in our refrigerators and in the grocery stores from spoiling. Without
it, computers, banking and fueling our vehicles becomes a complicated issue.
News becomes much slower to travel, and air traffic safety becomes difficult.
Mike Hirz, store manager of the Albertson's in Pomona, knows first-hand
how power outages can affect grocers. Three years ago, the power at a supermarket
went out for seven hours. "We had to buy dry ice to keep the freezer
temperature down," he says. "We bought 500 pounds of it. The open
air refrigerated coolers are your first priority," says Hirz. "The
freezers with doors can stay relatively cool for prolonged periods of time,
provided that the doors stay closed." Hirz even has moved refrigerated
goods into the freezers to keep the food cold.
The check stands at Albertson's, and most chains of supermarkets, run
on the power of an emergency generator fueled by natural gas. A few of the
store lights are also powered by the generator, but "we use lots of
flashlights," says Hirz. In any case, business can go on.
Some commercial sectors are unable to continue providing their services
without power. At the Pomona Texaco, a few blocks west of Albertson's on
Foothill, gas sales would dry up. As store manager Cary Simpson explains,
"When the power goes out, the turbines automatically stop," she
says. "So if there's no pressure, the gas can't pump. There's no backup
generator for turbines." The store itself can run on a backup generator,
but "no gas gets pumped." Simpson points out that fuel pumping
through the turbines is something of a delicate situation, and changing
the power source for those turbines would be potentially very dangerous.
Therefore, Simpson advises that "the most sensible thing is to not
drive that far" if you are low on fuel, and there is a widespread power
The most common cause of power outages is the wind, says Charlie Basham,
of Southern California Edison public relations. "High winds can blow
down utility poles," Basham offers. Even in Southern California, where
harsh weather is the exception, not the rule, bad weather can adversely
affect people's abilities to get power. Wind and rain can drive lines down.
Lightning and fire can damage equipment. Water from floods can damage types
of electrical apparatus, and power lines can even break under the weight
of snow. Earthquakes are also a concern for electric companies, as well
as car accidents involving a utility pole. In neighborhoods, unsafe digging,
birds, kites or even metallic balloons can cause outages. Other times, a
power outage can be a strategic method of preventing widespread problems
throughout an entire power grid.
During the summer months, prolonged heat waves hit Southern California,
and demand for power is at a yearly high. Heavy population growth means
more people using power. The strong economy means less caution from consumers
when using power, and more purchases of electronic equipment that requires
electricity to operate. One way SCE reduces its summer load is with rotating
outages. Sometimes called "rolling blackouts," they can become
necessary when the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) declares
a statewide Stage 3 Emergency. A Stage 3 Emergency arises when California's
electricity reserves fall below 1.5 percent. When that scenario occurs,
SCE implements a plan of controlled rotating outages throughout its powergrid
to prevent a widespread disturbance and possible uncontrolled outages. Through
such a rotational system, danger and inconvenience are reduced. CPUC prohibits
utilities from offering discounts due to emergency situations, including
Certain circuits are exempt from the rotation, such as those deemed
to provide essential services to the community. Therefore, circuits involving
large hospitals, fire stations or police stations are not a part of the
controlled outages. SCE also tracks customers who have applied for and have
been certified as "critical care" customers who need uninterrupted
power for uses like life support. They are deemed to be unable to go without
power for more than two hours. The rotating outages are scheduled for one
hour per circuit. Circuits can serve up to 2,000 customers and carry approximately
100 megawatts each.
People can prepare for when the power goes out in residential areas.
Employees of SCE said they suggest that residents keep a flashlight and
extra batteries handy at all times. Candles are less safe for lighting purposes,
as they are both dimmer and involve open flame, which pose both fire threats
and hazzards to children.
SCE recommends turning off all major appliances in one's residence,
except for one light bulb, which will signal the restoration of power. By
turning off the appliances, people can help ensure against circuit overloading,
which can delay service restoration. The La Verne Police Department recommends
several flashlights and extra batteries for each residence in La Verne.
Nita Ulloa, a police aid, says, "It is always good to have flashlights
and batteries, even more so than candlepower, which can be dangerous.
"We have backup generators, like hospitals, so the power is backed
up immediately by our background generators." She notes that the generators
run off petrol, and their primary function is to keep the dispatchers running.
"The communication lines have to stay open," Ulloa says.
The prospect of losing electricity is a scary thought. Most people do
not like to be in the dark, literally, but also in the sense with the uncertainty
that such a situation brings. However, people can rest assured that vital
services in our society, such as food, police, fire, hospitals and the like
will be able to function even when electricity is lost.
Life becomes inconvenient at times during a blackout, but the situation
is far from chaotic and, with a small amount of preparation, worry-free.
Anna Marie McGuire has been a resident of 1545 Diane Drive for 28 years.
She says that the "ugly" power towers have not caused her any
problems and have helped her maintain privacy around her home.