Energy Alternatives in a PSPS World

I have been contemplating how people can make their homes more marketable in a world where PG&E Planned Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) are now the norm. In the coming years, homes with backup sources of electricity may be more popular than those without.

Before we get to those backup options, I’d like to take a moment to remind everyone of an unfortunate fact: PG&E gets all its revenue from rate payors. I agree that PG&E’s actions–or lack thereof–related to improving infrastructure deserve a lot of criticism (Sheriff Allman refers to the whole thing as “PSPSBS”), but demanding recompense for damage during the PSPS will only make rates go up. Maddening as it is, asking PG&E to pay for spoiled food or loss of business doesn’t make sense. We, the rate payors, are PG&E’s only source of income, either we get hurt up front during the PSPS or we get hurt later in the form of rate hikes.

Having said that, we all need to be better prepared for PSPS situations or semi-disasters of one variety or another. When the call comes to evacuate, we may get a few days’ warning like we did this time around, or we may have almost no warning at all. Best to be ready. There are all sorts of websites with detailed instructions on how to create a family disaster plan: is a good place to start.

During the last PSPS, Adventist Health Ukiah Valley saw more than twice as many patients as it does during an average day. They treated people for carbon monoxide poisoning because people brought generators indoors—not a good plan. They treated people for low blood sugar because people didn’t have enough to eat. These ailments could have been prevented with a little planning.
Since I expect these power outages will recur at least every fall, my question is how can we make life safer and more comfortable when the grid goes down? How can we power medical devices, keep food and refrigerated medications from spoiling, and heat the house? Basically, you have three options for generating your own electricity: buy a generator, install solar panels, or opt for a fuel cell (if natural gas is available in your neighborhood). In addition to a power source, you’ll need a house battery to store the energy. Be advised, these are not the kind of batteries you can pick up at your local drug store.

Whatever backup system you choose will require maintenance and periodic testing. Nothing is more frustrating than having a backup that doesn’t work when the power goes out, so be sure to have equipment installed by licensed professionals. This protects you as well as those working on the power lines. If your backup power system isn’t installed properly, it could short circuit your appliances as well as feed energy back into the grid and electrocute an unsuspecting lineman. Not cool.

Small generators and whole-house generators were the most popular backup option recently, in part because they are cheaper and quicker to install than solar panels. The challenge is access to gasoline. People waited for hours to pump gas at Costco in Ukiah and Coyote Valley Casino in Redwood Valley and at Brown’s Corner in Willits during the last PSPS. Hats off to all three organizations. Costco stayed open 24/7 and allowed non-Costco members to get gas. Coyote Valley had employees directing traffic and handing out water during the long wait, and Brown’s Corner actually dropped their prices by $0.10/gallon during the outage. If you can get a propane-powered generator, that’s a good option.

If you can afford a solar setup, choose a local vendor. We’ve got people here who have been in the business for more than 20 years and really know what they’re doing.
If you have questions about property management or real estate, please contact me at or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

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