Alan Ferdman | Living Like Our Great-Grandparents


Last week, two days of Southern California Edison shutting down my neighborhood’s power started me thinking about what life might be like in California when my grandchildren have children. 

Today, our lives are totally dependent on the availability of electricity. Without it, we would not have light at night or air conditioning, the heat from our home’s forced-air furnace would no longer provide relief from the winter’s cold, municipal water pumps would be silent and soon water would no longer be flowing from our tap. The Sanitation District would not have the ability to process sewage. Radio, television, computers, the internet and telephones would cease to function, gas stations would not have the ability to provide fuel for vehicles, supermarket shelves would be empty very quickly, and even our electric coffee makers would sit idle, unable to get us going in the morning. 

Without electricity, we would be living back in the late 1800s, and most of today’s Americans are nowhere close to having the skills or resources to live under those conditions. 

The ability of society to function today can be traced back to the 1890s, before communities had electrical service, and the clash of Edison’s direct current and Tesla’s alternating current technologies was in full bloom. In those days, they were mainly thinking about how to light a city, and direct current produced light without any flickering. Alternating current had the advantage of easily manipulating the relationship between voltage and current using two coils placed in a common magnetic field, or as we call it today, electrical transformers. 

For you mathematicians out there, using the formula for the ability to do work, power is equal to voltage times current. You can see, if you keep power constant and raise the voltage, the current goes down proportionally and vice versa. Using Ohms Law, voltage is equal to current times resistance, it also becomes evident if the resistance of a transmission line is constant and the current is decreased, the volt drop across the transmission line is reduced, or to say it in another way, line loss is less.

Being able to provide electrical power over a large area at a much lower cost was the advantage Tesla’s AC technology had over Edison’s DC, and the reason “alternating current” won the day. Even if you did not understand the math, I hope my explanation, gave you a feel for why we have a power grid and those very-high-voltage transmission lines stretching across the country. 

Because electricity is involved in so many aspects of our daily life, it is not hard to realize, Southern California Edison is the most important public utility serving the Santa Clarita Valley. Our way of life demands we have a reliable continual supply of their product, because without electricity other utilities will not be able to provide their services, causing a significant impact to our daily lives. In my way of thinking, it is SCE’s responsibility to keep up with our community’s electrical needs. If there is not enough power available in the summer to meet our community’s demand, then SCE must make more available, or stop adding new customers until the problem has been resolved. 

If the winter months bring forth winds that create unsafe conditions, Southern California Edison must fix their equipment, and mitigate the threat. I have lived in the same house for the last 55 years, and SCE wants me to believe winter winds have only been a problem recently? The idea that “Public Safety Power Shutoffs” are occurring to keep the public safe is absurd. SCE is worried more about the possibility of litigation due to a downed power line starting a fire than they are concerned about our safety.

During last week’s power shutdown in Canyon Country, I called the county and the city. They of course told me, the situation was outside of their jurisdiction, and while they could put pressure on SCE, there is little else they can do. Next, I called SCE and spoke with three of customer service associates. When I asked why power was out at my house and on across the street, all they could tell me was I was on a different circuit. They had no information relating to which circuit I am on, or what the danger was they were trying to mitigate, except to tell me there must be one. All they had the ability to do is, apologize.

As responsible community members, we can take action and reduce the effect of short-term power outages. We can purchase generators and other supplies to make these situations more bearable. But, residents of the SCV are experiencing outages and shortages more than ever before, indicating SCE is not fixing their equipment and simply passing the pain on to their customers. 

If we, as citizens and residents, do not start holding the utilities, as well as our elected officials’, feet to the fire, the problem will simply get worse. SCE and other public utilities are commonly rationing their products by adding new charges, raising fees and implementing tiered rates. Our California politicians at all levels have been ineffective at improving the situation. The Public Utilities Commission is ineffective at everything, except approving new higher rates. 

It is becoming an untenable situation, yet we have choices. We can start making our voices heard or resign to the idea our grandchildren will be subjected to conditions like in 1890 all over again. It is our decision to stand up and fight, or sit on the couch, and accept our destiny of living like our grandparents’ parents.

Alan Ferdman is a Santa Clarita resident and a member of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee board.

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