For years, Philadelphia and the surrounding region have sold itself to tourists on our colonial charms -- walk the cobblestone streets of Old City, check out the crack in the Liberty Bell, or stroll the hallowed hillsides of Valley Forge where George Washington's troops camped out! Maybe they should add the region's circa-1789 power grid to the list. There are more and more nights when Ben Franklin had more electricity in that glass bottle than do residents of Philly's suburbs.
Last Thursday night, on the eve of the Independence Day weekend, a storm rumbled through my neighborhood of insufficient strength to even wake me up, yet it was powerful enough to knock out the lights for me and about 160,000 of my closest friends. Presumably because PECO had given lots of folks off for the long weekend -- probably because no one expected a 10-minute rainstorm to knock out power to tens of thousands of people!!! -- it took 60 hours...count 'em, 60 -- to get the power back.
OK, stuff happens, but last night there was a storm of similar, middling, intensity -- the pavement wasn't even wet when I got off my train last night -- and the lights were off again! The news said that 240,000 lost power for a time (the vast majority in the counties served by PECO...hmmm), which, again, seemed like a lot for a briefly intense but otherwise forgettable weather event. This time there was no electricity for only 6 hours, not 60. I guess I was supposed to be relieved.
Instead, this all has me wondering. I mean, in my lifetime I've seen accidental commercial jet crashes all but disappear and auto deaths drop sharply, even as the number of cars on the road have skyrocketed. That's called progress -- something that seems to have eluded our electric utilities, and especially PECO. Look, maybe we're experiencing more intense storms around these parts (climate ch...oh, never mind) but anecdotally both the number of outages and the duration seem to be more than they were 10, 20 years ago.