Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Update: fourth day without power

This is a Great Farm record. We get lots of outages, of course, but this has been the longest for many years. Apparently there were still 9,000 folks without power in our county, so we're not the only ones. We did talk to a CMP assessment crew last night. They were running lines in a van and on foot, using maps and a GPS to help strategize the use of the linesmen and tree crews. I expect that means we won't have to wait very much longer.

Our almost-brand new generator now has something like forty or fifty hours on the clock and has begun using oil! Not a great thing, considering it carries only 0.9 of a quart to begin. That's a very small amount of oil for such a lot of work. It's a good thing we rest it for several hours a day.

As a result of having the genny, all our food is still good, including the two freezers packed full of farm produce. It may be that the very hard frost we got on Monday night got quite a bit of the fall garden produce, though. We'll see when the snow melts. It's just possible that the snow cover kept the potatoes and carrots, still underground, from freezing hard.

We're hopeful for the power to be turned back on today. We can manage indefinitely, as long as the genny holds out. But our elderly neighbor is beginning to get tired of things, especially as she needs to use oxygen. Another neighbor had no heat for a while.

Luckily, we've been able to rearrange our schedules somewhat so I can be home more to run the generator. It takes several good pulls on the pull-cord to start it, and when cold it likes a spritz of starter fluid. Then there's the oil to check and the gas bottles to exchange. Aimee is not fond of this kind of futzing with heavy technology at the best of times -- stuff with engines and pull cords and wotnot seems to drive her up the wall if it is not "plug-and-play."

The most annoying thing, for both of us, has been the failure of both of our carbon monoxide and propane leak detectors. Apparently, neither one was designed for long outages. The batteries wear out very quickly without 110 volts, and then the units start squawking.

This is very annoying, since the time I'm most worried about carbon monoxide poisoning and propane leaks is when I'm running a propane generator for fifteen hours a day! The company, Kidde, is a very good brand, but they clearly didn't think this one through.

With a babe in arms, Aimee's even less fond of such nuisances and added dangers, and I'm not particularly happy about it all either. But, I expect she now sees the point of all my endless prepping and strategizing about power and other household back-up systems. Considering we do have a nine-week old, and that an awful lot of our neighbors are in similarly uncomfortable situations, we have nothing to complain about. We're warm and safe enough, and that's the main thing.

One outcome of this particular power emergency is that I've changed my plans for the big diesel generator. I'm going to refurbish it for use here, not as a WVO demo. The relative weakness of our small propane genny is now quite apparent. It's too small to run the whole house, noisy, runs out of fuel too quickly, and is hard to start. With the huge diesel one, we wouldn't have to worry about engine lubricating oil, or fuel supply, assuming a large-enough tank full of diesel, and we'd be able to run everything in the house including the dryer. It would probably be easier for Aimee to handle, too, since it would have an electrical starter.

Heck, if it were legal to do so, in a situation like this with the roadside breaker to our small hamlet of five homes popped, I could even feed back through the CMP transformers and lines to feed the other four Great Farm homes. If our one house can manage with 3.5kW, the larger generator, at 18 kW, would be enough capacity for all four houses, with some to spare. Unfortunately, I don't think it's legal to set up one's own ad-hoc micro grid like that. But it should be.

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