Our View: What it’s like when the lights go out | TheUnion.com

Our View: What it’s like when the lights go out

The Union Editorial Board

You’d have thought we’d been thrust back into the Dark Ages.

With few exceptions, western Nevada County has been cloaked in darkness when the sun sets. The steady rattle of generators comforts some, and brings light, while others huddle near candles or fireplaces.

The new normal is really just the old normal dressed up with camping lanterns.

Three Public Safety Power Shutoffs in a week have negatively affected business, life and moods. They’ve made us realize how dependent we are on the flick of a switch, and the instant gratification of light that comes with it.

If PG&E continues down this path, the customers will be the ones that turn its power off.

People deal with a lack of power in different ways. The Union Editorial Board is no different. For the most part its members shivered in the dark with the rest of western Nevada County. They have a few stories to tell.

The second shutoff ended for one man at 1:45 p.m. Monday. He and his family immediately began filling water cans in anticipation of Tuesday’s shutoff. Then they filled the bathtub with water, just in case.

Local media has provided constant information, whether in print, online or over the airwaves. We may sit in darkness, but our phones connect us to the outside world. And when they fail, there’s still the battery powered radio.

A woman affected by the shutoff ensured her family’s cars had their gas tanks topped off. Appliances like the ice and coffee makers were unplugged, for fear of a power surge. The generator hummed just long enough to keep the refrigerator and freezer running, charge the cell phones, get online and watch the World Series.

A fire is kept going, which provides heat and light. Then it’s off to bed early until the rising sun lights up this corner of the world.

One person is the envy of the others. He lives in the part of Grass Valley that had power throughout the shutoffs. Lights, heat, internet — they’re all there. An oasis of civilization thrives in the midst of a dark sea.

One street over neighbors eat frozen dinners before they spoil. Their camp lanterns sputter and fail, bringing total night.

Never again will that fortunate Grass Valley resident take electricity for granted.

Neither will the South County apartment dweller who sat in a cold room surrounded by candles and thin silence. Three shutoffs in and he hasn’t bought groceries in over a week. Sandwich wrappers pile up in the trash can as he plods through a book.

This, most would agree, is getting old.

People complained during the first couple of shutoffs that there was no wind, which is a key reason PG&E points to when cutting power. They were right. If strong winds in other areas potentially can impact us, the utility must do a much better job at repeatedly explaining this to its customers.

We did experience intense wind over the weekend, which makes an argument for a shutoff.

But, as we’ve said before, PG&E must better target the outages instead of using a broad brush when painting darkness.

Leaders of the power company need to consider the mess they created and then stepped in. People aren’t merely talking about breaking PG&E up, they packed the Nevada Irrigation District’s offices this week to further that end.

Power line infrastructure should be strengthened and maintained. Communication between PG&E and customers has to improve. People must get electricity, even when weather conditions grow harsh. Multiple shutoffs in a week are unacceptable.

If PG&E continues down this path, the customers will be the ones that turn its power off.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.


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