By Roberta Bailey
Ice Storm ’98 is out of the media headlines, and for many, out of mind. Uncle Henry’s Swap and Sell Guide had an unusually long listing of generators the week after the power came back. For some, myself included, the effects of the storm linger. The branches revealed by melting snow, the dangerous conditions in the woods, and the silhouettes of the shattered treeline are constant reminders of the storm.
One particular vision keeps haunting me. On the Thursday that so much of the state lost electricity, I started to drive to work in my usual weather defying manner. After moving a few trees from the road, dodging many others, and holding my breath in fear as I drove under, and then over, fallen power lines, I stopped focusing so intently on my slalom course and started to take in the sobering reality around me. It was dark. It was eerie. This was the world as we know it come to a chilling halt. I stopped the car and stared. Ice and silence and broken power lines hung everywhere. I turned around to go home, afraid for the first time that my little car and I might not get there.
I did make it home safely, but the sights of a broken and extremely vulnerable world have left me haunted with questions. Why do we rely so heavily on one source of power? Why do we have gas stoves with electric pilot lighting systems, and oil furnaces and heating systems that rely on electricity for fans and other essential components? What happened to all the hand operated water pumps that used to be in Maine farm houses? What happens if some unforeseen calamity takes the power out for longer, like months? Is running a gasoline powered generator in an attempt to generate a status quo lifestyle a viable solution? What about day-to-day conservation? And what will the cost to the rate payer really look like? Will it make the one time cost of solar electricity seem more equitable, more affordable, owning your power, instead of renting it?
As sustainable farmers, we know that diversity gives us stability. If one crop fails, we have the others on which to fall back for financial security. What if one power source in our household fails?