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Monday, Feb 6, 2023

Going From Light to Darkness?

The new year is well underway. There is hope and we have slightly seen the light at the end of the tunnel. With the distribution of vaccines for COVID-19 and with a new administration in the White House, there is a sense that better days are ahead of us. Despite this glimmer of hope, there are realities that will continue to face us and our communities in 2021. Housing is still incredibly expensive. Taxes are ridiculously high. Businesses are permanently closing their doors. And power shutoffs are happening more and more in communities across our state.  At a time when many are working from home and students are still distance learning, having your power shut off can have an enormous impact on your productivity. But, in this case, the problem isn’t that you are not trying to be productive, the problem is that you simply can’t because you have no power. You can’t go to a restaurant or a bar to get work done because there are restrictions to their operations. Students, especially the younger learners, can’t go to their school library because they’re closed. These are people’s livelihoods.

Beyond the effects on productivity, power outages during the COVID-19 pandemic can have profound impacts on social interaction and mental health due to the downing of communication channels that need power sources to work. For many that have not seen family or friends in almost a year, these outages can exacerbate the effects of isolation, especially for our elderly neighbors and young children.

In California, we’ve seen outages around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and in January. We all saw what happened in Texas. The hardest part of all this is not knowing how long the outages will last. They can last a few hours, or they can last a few days. If the outage lasts a few days, then those who are financially able might be able to pack up and go to a hotel where there is power to connect for work and their kids can log on for their classes. This isn’t sustainable, especially for lower income communities.

For businesses that are struggling to stay alive, having your power shut off for a few hours can have a huge toll on your operations. Now, having no power for two to three days could cost a business tens of thousands of dollars.

Okay, let’s say hospitals had their power turned off because the only energy supply available was, well, not available. Yes, hospitals are structured to withstand an outage with backup generators, but it is hard to know the real impacts it would have on these facilities if our whole system was 100 percent electric. If it’s anything like what we’ve seen recently, then I worry.  Yet, there is still this belief that Los Angeles and California should move towards 100 percent electric. I understand there are real concerns for public safety and potential wildfires when the decision is made to shut power off, but this is a broken system and will absolutely not improve if we are forced to stick with just one energy supply source. This is evident now more than ever.  At the beginning, I mentioned housing is still incredibly expensive. Because of this, more and more people are falling into homelessness. Still, our decision makers want to force all-electric construction in new homes. Forcing this type of construction is going to drive up the cost of projects and drive up the cost of those new homes and rental units. Those property owners and renters would be spending most of their income on a home where power will end up getting shut off because, well, that’s what happens when that’s the only energy source available.  I’ve said it for years. We cannot place our eggs in one basket. We need to be thinking about an energy strategy that incorporates all forms of energy, such as natural gas.

Natural gas distribution systems should play a vital role in meeting our climate goals. It’s affordable and reliable, and it allows for increased use of other renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. Instead of completely phasing out these types of energy sources like our decision makers have been fighting so hard to do, they should leverage them as an affordable method for reaching our climate goals.

COVID-19 has opened our eyes to the many faults around us. We need to begin thinking of things differently and we need to begin understanding the impacts of our decisions. I hope our communities and decision makers have begun to see what will inevitably happen if we continue down the road of phasing out, eliminating and limiting our energy supply. What will happen? The light at the end of the tunnel we all saw at the beginning of this year will be turned off.    Stuart Waldman is president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a business advocacy organization based in Van Nuys that represents employers in the San Fernando Valley at the local, state and federal levels of government.

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