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December 19, 2006


On Thursday evening at 10 pm, following a severe windstorm in the Seattle area, the power went out at our house. It's still not back on.

Before I continue, I'll point out that we have a generator at our house, which runs off the natural gas line, so we have lights, heat, working refrigerator and are not suffering much from this (except that I had to fix a gate fence on the side of our house that had twisted its hinge apart). We are now suffering a meta-anti-schadenfreude, as we feel bad that our neighbors feel bad at our good fortune. Although many of them have since decamped to visit friends or family or hotels that have power. Our kids, meanwhile, are envious of their friends who are having an "authentic" power outage experience (although a one-night sleepover in a 40-degree candle-lit house seems to cure them of this).

The paper today had an editorial about how the region had survived the storm, and mentioning that there were "pockets" left without power. But the entire area we live in is still without power. I don't know how many houses, but there are three elementary schools that serve it. So that's a pretty big pocket. I think the feeling (from the cozy confines of a newspaper office in Seattle) is that the remaining outage is the usual contingent of outlying people who live on 5 acres at the end of a windy road lined with old trees. But it's not; there are still large areas with no power. Puget Sound Energy, the utility that provides electricity to us, had about 700,000 homes out at the peak, and their website says they still have 150,000 out. On the road leading up to our house, there has been a large tree leaning on the power line for the last 5 days (it actually is quite elegantly cantilevered over the street, which creates a nice entrance-to-a-National-Park effect, except every time you drive under it you have to wonder if this is the moment when the power line will finally snap and send the tree crashing down on your car).

Which reminds me, someone I know said they saw the CEO of Puget Sound Energy, Steve Reynolds, sitting in a Starbucks on Friday morning after the storm hit. This was a Starbucks in Bellevue, in the tiny patch of the Eastside that didn't lose power. The report was that he didn't seem too hurried to get back to work. Of course this was before PSE had done their full assessment and started using phrases like "unprecedented damage to the utility's electric system". If Microsoft is looking to hire someone with operations experience to help run their websites, I suspect (with the misguided certainty of a blogger) that ol' Steve might suffer an involuntary separation from his current job once PSE's response to the storm has been investigated (although I would be remiss if I didn't mention that PSE is also the utility that has kept the natural gas flowing to our house all this time).

Microsoft lost power on Friday, and possibly for some undetermined amount of time over the weekend, but by Monday things were back to normal. Although the refrigerators in all the buildings were emptied out (probably a good thing anyway) and I'm not sure whether to trust the chocolate milk.

So we'll see. Our generator is still cranking away after 100+ hours, hopefully in a coiple of days the lights will come back on around us, and someday the people will return.

Posted by AdamBa at December 19, 2006 12:19 PM

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Listening to PSE's operations on the scanner is a pretty good way of getting a feel for how hard they're working — fixing lines during the day, and powering up circuits in the evening. One of the call center employees has a ham radio license, and mentioned that the executive staff from HR has been working long shifts in the call center to help handle the load.

The local PSE frequencies can be found here:


Posted by: Matt Swann at December 19, 2006 02:07 PM

I certainly didn't mean to imply that the individual crews are not working extremely hard -- the website mentioned at one point that they had worked 40 hours straight and so were on mandatory break. Plus the added threat of being electrocuted by some yahoo who plugged in his/her generator wrong.

I am more dubious about the organization of the response. I would suspect from an HPT perspective this is a "good employee in bad system" situation.

Then again, being a blogger means never having to admit you have no idea what you are talking about.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at December 19, 2006 02:56 PM

In 2005 Steve Reynolds was reportedly paid about 20 times more than Washington's governor ($3,014,270.00 v. $150,995.00). That's a pretty nice compensation package for running a government chartered monopoly.

Unfortunately, as I near the end of my fifth day without power, I can't help but wonder whether my current pain might be related to Mr. Reynolds' out-sized gain. When executive attention is devoted to personal advantage it can be easy to overlook the planning and postpone the investment needed to prepare for inevitable natural disasters.

Posted by: Steve Schack at December 19, 2006 03:33 PM

Amazing to me that the loss of power for as little as 5 days in a massive windstorm immediately constitutes some sort of corruption by PSE. Remember that they were catching flack after the '93 storm for forcibly removing limbs over power lines. Do you want them to remove all trees for the sake of a few more hours of electricity every 10 yrs?
Truth is, there's a lot of trees in the NW. That's why we live here. When we get a windstorm like we did the other night, we pay. If you don't have power back yet, Adam, it's because of damage to your part of the system that is taking longer to fix, not because there's some conspiracy to withold power from you.

Posted by: Kip at December 19, 2006 07:51 PM

I'm not particularly angry at him. Nonetheless I predict he will get waxed once things are sorted out.

By astonishing coincidence, as I was typing this the power came back on in our neighborhood. 119 1/2 hours later.

Nice to be able to inflate our giant front-lawn snowman without worrying about annoying the neighbors (more than usual I mean).

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at December 19, 2006 09:40 PM

Only tangentially related, but what model of generator do you have in your house? Tempted to get one after this last windstorm (ironically, we didn't lose power at all)

Posted by: Sky at December 19, 2006 09:57 PM

We have a Kohler 8.5RMY. 7 years old and so far has never let us down.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at December 19, 2006 11:12 PM

turn the NW into chicago - take down all the trees.

Posted by: Sid Singh at December 20, 2006 11:31 PM

If I understand it right, your area have been without electricity for 5 days because the airbone power lines have been cut by falling trees or tree branches.

The obvious question is why power lines are not underground? I thought that underground power lines are mandatory for big cities.

Posted by: Ivan at December 22, 2006 09:01 AM

I agree, that does seem like the solution (but expensive). In fact in our immediate neighborhood they are, but the lines leading up to us are not. So it's not a question of cutting down the trees, just separate them from the power.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at December 22, 2006 05:03 PM