Power up

A Cooperative Extension class, Blackout Backup, covers such topics as the purchase, prep and use of generators; emergency lighting options for your home or bug-out kit; and simple battery storage when you need the electricity. 

Last week, the most energy-focused state in the nation ended up finding out how important personal electrical production, redundancies and energy markets can be during outages.

Electrical costs increased from $50 a megawatt to $9,000 for the same amount. Traders in natural gas, which is used to produce much of Texas’ electricity, also bought the farm when, in all of the uncertainty of a soaring demand, many creditors made margin calls. This forced Texas gas traders to go to overseas lending institutions to keep their positions solvent. And unfortunately, as I predicted, without heat several Texans died from carbon monoxide poisoning by bringing combustion devices into their homes.

I can’t do anything about electrical markets or lack of infrastructure redundancies, but I am able to raise awareness of personal electrical production as taught in a daylong Blackout Backup class. Important topics covered are outage resources that are available before and during an outage; the purchase, prep and use of generators; emergency lighting options for your home or bug-out kit; and simple battery storage when you need the electricity.

Other class topics include the types of fuels to have on hand; refrigerator/freezer triage; space heater and water heater safety; and wire and cord management tips so that you don’t trip. The class also covers keeping the water flowing during an outage; tapping into your car as a power plant; phone and communication considerations; helping pets stay safe and calm; and, when the power comes back on, cleaning up, assessing and making adjustments for the next possible blackout.

The reason for these types of classes is that it only takes one weather event in Alaska to knock out the power, and within a day freeze pipes in a home that depends on electricity for a Toyostove, boiler, hot water heater, etc. And while there are pet-friendly hotels in Fairbanks and Anchorage, when a community is without power and has to evacuate to hotels and motels, there will not be enough lodging for all the pets as well.

Also, as has been evidenced by the tragic deaths due to poor indoor air quality in Texas, many homeowners and renters do not have adequate venting for emergencies of their combustion-fired auxiliary heat sources. And, there often are a lot of questions about how to use a generator optimally with the limited fuel on hand after one has been purchased following an outage.

Now, one advantage that most Alaskans have over Texans is a bit more time to implement a solution if they have the know-how and appliances on hand. Most Alaska homes are endowed with at least an R-19 insulation value, or higher than Texas homes in general, so the fact that Alaska dwellings are built to retain heat helps in the short run to get things into place following an outage. We, of course, have more severe cold temperatures and thus it is hard to say if we really get more reprieve with prolonged outages that run into days.

If you are interested in attending Blackout Backup classes in the future, please contact me at alnashjr@alaska.edu. Stay warm, and energized.

Art Nash is the Extension energy and radon specialist for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 907-474-6366 or by email at alnashjr@alaska.edu.