Thursday, August 13, 2020
Aug. 13, 2020

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Energy Adviser: Generators handy if power goes out

The Columbian

While urban living can’t match the beauty of rural life, it also goes without the circumstances that occasionally leaves residents without power, sometimes for days on end.

In those rare instances when a major storm causes widespread outages, Clark Public Utilities prioritizes repairs that benefit the greatest number of customers. As a result, lines that service only a few customers might experience longer delays.

Generators are handy tools for people living on the edges of the grid. They can keep critical parts of your home, such as freezers, well pumps, electric ranges, or critical medical equipment running during an extended outage. It’s up to you to determine what your tolerance is.

“Generally, a family could go a day without power and be all right. Any more than that and a generator might be a smart investment,” said Clark Public Utilities Safety Manager Justin Zucconi. “Rural customers aren’t the only ones who may benefit from a generator, but the redundancy and robustness of the grid in the county’s developed areas means outages typically don’t last very long in those areas.”

A portable generator can only supply between 2,000 and 7,000 watts. That’s not nearly enough to power your entire home, but it is enough to make life a little more comfortable.

“If you have freezers full of food, you can use a generator to keep the supply preserved,” Zucconi said. “You don’t need to run the generator day and night, just enough to keep the temperature in the proper range. Then you can use the generator to power your stove or other appliances.”

This time of year, just before storm season, is the ideal time to consider buying one or performing preseason maintenance on your generator. If you plan on using one this year, there are several important considerations to keep in mind.

Putting it to use

It’s best to run the generator as far from your house as reasonably possible so the exhaust doesn’t enter your home. Never operate a generator in a garage, under a carport or near any open windows. Doing so creates a serious risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, a silent and discrete killer.

It’s also smart to keep it under some kind of well-ventilated shelter to protect it from the elements.

Use heavy duty extension cords that have a high enough amp rating to work with your appliances. A cord that is too small will burn up and could damage your appliance or potentially cause a fire.

Never try to connect a generator into your home’s electrical panel. First off, portable generators typically aren’t powerful enough to do the job. But more importantly, an improper connection can create a dangerous process known as backfeeding. When that happens, electricity is pushed out of your house into the grid which creates extremely hazardous conditions for the utility workers who may be trying to restore power in your neighborhood.

Shut off the generator before refueling it. The heat from the running engine risks igniting a fire when gasoline is present.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.