The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 25, 2013

Subcommittee looks at availability of emergency power

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Rodney Canterbury wanted to know how many people lost power in their homes last year when a derecho roared across West Virginia.

Almost without exception, lawmakers assembled for a Government Organization Subcommittee B interims meeting raised their hands.

“OK, now,” asked the general manager for Cecil L. Walker Machinery Co. in Belle, “how many are prepared today?”

Only two indicated they were ready for another mass outage.

So began a look backward, and forward, into the availability of emergency generators, which became critical when the ferocious storm packing hurricane-like winds raced across the state, knocking out power in all but two counties.

“That’s exactly what we’re experiencing today,” Canterbury said, suggesting that the general population isn’t ready in the event of another such crisis.

Since the storm, however, there has been a 300 percent increase in inquiries about what it needed to equip a home or business, he said.

And such questions have been raised by gas stations, hospitals, nursing homes and grocery store chains, he said.

“When the storm came through, 15 minutes later we got calls from companies that lost power,” he said, adding these were from places where generators simply had not been maintained over the years.

Speakers at the interims committee meeting painted a dark picture of the immediate aftermath of the storm.

Lawmakers were told that generators can be fueled by natural gas, gasoline, and propane.

“We’re excited about anything you can do on this,” Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, said.

“Our ability to be self-sustaining in a time of emergency, residential or commercial, is extremely precious. Anything we can do to increase self-sufficiency when there is all around us victims of despair and despondency is good.”

Generally, for a gas station/convenience store, keeping the freezers, pumps, computers and lights running requires a generator that retails for between $50,000 and $75,000, Canterbury said.

“Gas generators are great for short-term conditions,” Dale Oxley, president of a home builders association in Charleston told the panel.

“We had a fire in the last six or seven days here in Charleston when they were re-fueling a generator with gas while it was running. As a builder, I’d like to see us move to the evolution of putting in whole-house generators. If you’re building a million-dollar house, a $6,000 generator is not a big deal.”

Kump wanted to know what it would cost for “Joe six-pack,” the average home owner, to provide emergency backup.

Rusty Crites, president of Crites Electric Inc., in Buckhannon, pegged the amount at between $1,200 and $2,000.

Crites painted a dark picture of the immediate aftermath when the strain of a power outage proved too much for some residents.

“We had fist fights at the gas stations,” he said.

“Traffic was backed up. It was a mess.”

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