The generator gap in Connecticut

Lowe's workers load generators for customers before Sandy. By Christian Abraham

The windows in the neighborhoods deprived of power could offer a larger window on the economic disparity playing out in Connecticut.

In the days after Hurricane Sandy devastated the state, some windows in homes were completely dark, others lit with  flickering candle light, but both stood in stark contrast to the ones illuminated by bright lights and the glow of TV sets powered by generators rumbling through the night.

Edward Deak, Fairfield University  professor emeritus of economics, said this is really the backup system for our electricity grid and it’s inadequate and expensive.

He said as Connecticut reviews the storm damage from Sandy, it will have to address more than just repairing its electric power system, but also ponder what sort of redundancies it needs to keep the lights on.

Right now,  the only choice is for people to rely on generators for backup, an overly expensive system that harkins back to the thinking of the 19th Century, where people would be on their own. Indeed, some households took a step back into the pre-electric dawn for much of the storm, having no heat, no lights and relying on work or public gathering places to get energy.

Our colleague, Richard Lee, did a first rate job on discussing the options and expense of backup home generation just a few days after Sandy hit. In that article, the costs for portable power ranged from a low of $549 for a unit, with a 6 gallon tank, that can power refrigerators and some lights for up to 10 hours at a time, to gas- or propane-fired units that can power the entire house that cost $4,500, not including installation and site work.

A repairman works on a backup generator at a Fairfield home. By Autum Driscoll

The expense on its surface doesn’t look like much, but certainly there are a percentage of households living paycheck-to-paycheck, that wouldn’t be able to afford such an item.

On the flip side, one could argue, an increase in distributed generation backup would provide sales revenue and jobs in maintenance and installation.

Certainly redundancy should be a topic of discussion in the wake of this storm.

If, for some reason, creating a backup utility option is out of the question, it’s not a hopeless situation in the state. There was plenty of evidence that people also embraced their neighbors during the storm. Some homes with generators ran lines to those of their neighbors to help them run refrigerators and have a light or two on during the long nights. So, in the toughest of times, people’s humanity can still be relied upon to provide a little bit of light in the dark.

Rob Varnon