Powering down

Ontario Premier Ernie Eves has asked everyone in the province to cut back on their electricity use:

“We currently do not have enough [power] generation back on-line to see us through a regular weekday,” Ernie Eves, the Ontario Premier, said in a televised address yesterday.

Mr. Eves, who told reporters there “isn’t anybody on the face of the Earth that can offer a guarantee that there will not be a rolling blackout of some kind,” urged Ontarians to cut their regular power usage by half and asked all levels of government to operate only essential services for the rest of the week.

Here at Tucows, we’ve shut down the air conditioning and turned off all the lights. Non-essential computers have been shut off, including the company-issued Dell running Red Hat 9 on my desk, which I generally use as an IRC machine and second browser (my own personal Powerbook is my preferred tool). The building so far has remained pretty cool and the nine skylights let lots of sun in, but I’m already planning my move away from my desk at 3 p.m. when the sun from the overhead skylight glares down at me like the abducto-ray from all those alien encounter movies.

I’m going to treat the ongoing power crisis as an excuse to fire up the barbecue tonight rather than use our electric range or oven. Might as well turn lemons into lemonade, right?

Like the way it takes a heart attack to convince some people to change their eating and exercise habits, the big blackout has started to convince some people to find ways to conserve electricity. Power conservation has become a virtue and conspicuous consumption of kilowatts has become a vice, to the point that people running air condtioners are getting overly defensive. Take the quote from the guy in this article:

One man said he had a good excuse for running his air conditioner.

“I resent your asking me that,” he said. “I have asthma, and I could die without the air conditioning, so go away.”

He had me with “I have asthma” and lost me with “I resent” and “I could die”. He comes off more as a petulant emo rock teenager who really needs that new piercing than a guy with a respiratory ailment.

17 replies on “Powering down”

“I have asthma, and I could die, blah blah blah…”

Does he run the air conditioner in the winter, too?

The thinking with some people seems to be “If everyone else is cutting back their usage, then it won’t matter if I turn my (A/C|Washer|Dryer|Dishwasher) on.

The only problem is, they seem to forget the “Now, if I assume that I’m not the only one with this idea…”

(Incidentally, will we get to see pics of the Tucows digs? I’m anxious to see what a surviving, newish-media Internet company looks like)

Wow.. I have asthma and lived for 28 years in Michigan without AC, then I moved to Arizona (its a dry heat). I must have been doing something wrong.

As a nuclear power worker, I’m typically a power conservation bully, but with the recent grid collapse, I’ve been elevated to the position of Conservation Fascist. I damn near tore the head off of my upstairs neighbour last night when he came home after two days away from his icy-cold power-sucking abandoned apartment.

Energy conservation comes from the barrel of a gun …

Gamma Fodder

Okay, time to rant.

While I agree that the kind of pointless waste of electrons symbolized by 24-hour year-round air conditioner use is tasteless and rude, I respectfully disagree on the more general point that conserving energy is going to solve any problems.

For one thing, people won’t do it. I have no idea what the numbers are, but I’m willing to bet that power usage has been increasing every year since I’ve been alive, and will continue to do so unless something Really Bad happens. By that I do not mean a week- or year-long power shortage; it would take something closer to the complete collapse of industrial civilization. Propaganda won’t be effective long-term.

It’s worth noting that some of the more seriously environmentally-conscious citizens of north america have gone out of their way to use more electrical power rather than less, by way of electric cars. Converting our various users of fossil fuels to pure electrical energy would do a lot more good for the world than cutting back electrical power usage by the few percent that it might be possible to induce people to do.

Nor will the “free market” solve this particular problem. Raising the rates won’t help much — demand here is pretty inelastic. Letting the rates paid triple, as it’s been suggested that they will, will only serve to lead people to blame it all on the privatization of hydro, killing Eves’ chances in the next election.

In fact, I think that’s exactly their angle (they being the various officials who’ve come out urging everyone to start using less — long-term of course, not this week.) They’re looking for a way to make people think it’s their own fault and for their own good that the rates have to be raised.

Cutting back on one’s own power usage is great, but expecting that encouraging everyone to do it will make any difference to the stability of the system is just futile, and when done by people who should know better (those industry PR guys on the radio,) it’s irresponsible.

The real long-term solution, if there is one, has to involve the clean and abundant energy sources that show some promise for the future. They need only r&d dollars, resolve, a little luck, and time to get them into mass-production.

Anyway. Here’s hoping we’re all powered by fusion, solar, wind or wave power some day before it’s too late.


I’m pretty impressed with Tucows. My office isn’t doing anything different at all.

i am doing the little bit of powering down that I can. The AC hasn’t been on since thursday but we really haven’t needed it. i have begun turning off all lights religiously and even the ceiling fans in rooms other than the bedroom, at night. the computer goes off every night and also if i leave the apt. not much to contribute but a lil.

meanwhile, Bayview is a grand example of “fuck you” that’s popular with the wealthy. the subdivisions all around have central air and AC machines running full blast, as do most of the stores on Bayview south. Some of the restos are just opening their door but most places are humming along.

tbit anon

sfenders, I think that the suggested conservation – no A/C, etc. – is only until the nukes can get back online. Still, it’s a good idea to conserve power all the time – turning off unused lights, not turning your home into an air conditioned refrigerator, trying to buy energy efficient appliances… it would be nice if the economics of it all worked out so that the energy efficient models pay for themselves within a reasonable amount of time, of course.

As for the “making the people think it’s their own fault” part… I don’t see that as likely to work. I hope that the PCers aren’t that stupid.

Well, at least one person in Toronto possibly has died because of lack of a/c — check the Star online’s articles about Lewis Wheelan. Because of his skin grafts he needed a/c in order to keep from overheating.

As for asthma, I would give him the benefit of the doubt, though yeah, he could’ve been less of a jerk about it…


Like I said, he had me with “I have asthma” and lost me with his complete lack of graciousness.

I have no trouble with people who are sensitive to the heat and humidity — asthmatics, the elderly and so on — with keeping their air conditioning on. It’s those of us who are in good enough condition who whine at making small sacrifices for the common good who really get my goat.

yeah, our office has turned off most of the lights as well as the aircon..fortunately, I live ten minutes away and was able to change into shorts and a tee…as you said, lemons to lemonade etc.

PICxpert: ” no A/C, etc. – is only until the nukes can get back online.”

On CBC radio yesterday I heard an interview with an official from Hydro One who was saying that we need a long-term commitment from the public to conserve power. That’s what got me annoyed. Not the suggestion that we should conserve, but the implication that if we don’t, they won’t be able to handle it.

Just to make it clear, I do agree with all the rest of what you said…

“I hope that the PCers aren’t that stupid.” — well, IMO privatising hydro the way they did already demonstrated some amount of stupidity.


haha.. and just now on the radio “what does it take for people to adapt to a ‘new normal’ way of life” — as if it’s going to be permanent.

Didn’t mean to hijack your comments page Joey… I gotta get my own blog or something.



Don’t worry — it’s not hijacking at all! The idea behind the comments section is to encourage dialogue. Comment to your heart’s content!

Hmm… hadn’t heard about that… of course, I hadn’t heard about the latest sniper, either (I need more caffeine)

I’m actually (finally?) starting to completely distrust anything that comes out of any official’s mouth on this whole issue, after that whole “It’s your fault!” “No, it’s yours!” thing. Personally, I wish that the politicians and PR types would shut the hell up and let the engineers and techies work without molestation on this.

As Jon Stewart said last night: “The lights went out. That’s it.” (probably paraphrasing like hell, but this place I’m in has a rather soul-sucking effect). People seem to be making rather a big deal out of this. Near as I can tell, we need to do some work on making sure moronic Ohio operators keep trees clear of power lines, and make sure that our load isolation systems are working a bit more sanely.

IANAPE (I am not a power engineer), but is it really necessary to “modernize” the whole grid like Dubbya wants to do? It seems to do the job quite nicely as-is, and has done so for… how many years now?

(Maybe someone with meaningful experience can shed light on this – Gamma Fodder? I’ve only got 2 EE courses under my belt so far)

I�ll try to not be an alarmist, so instead of saying that the electrical distribution grid is fooked, I�ll only say that it desperately requires some long overdue investment to keep it healthy.

Overall, the problem with the grid stems from the basic mismatch of supply and demand (duh). Electrical consumption has ballooned due to population increase and general over-consumption of electricity (i.e. more air conditioners). In parallel, there has been no investment in the upgrading of the capacity and transmission. Darlington was the last power station to be built (in the very early 90�s), putting out approximately 3500 MW. Because of terrible cost over runs (due to mismanagement and repeated government project cancellation fines) and short-term political thinking, new plants haven�t even been planned (except for a pittance of wind turbine generation which is more for public image rather than generation capacity). Concurrently, no new major transmission lines have been built and infrastructure investment is non-existent, meaning that only preventative and corrective maintenance is keeping the system alive. In short, we�re consuming more on less and less reliable equipment.

Here�s what�s required to correct the problem:

1. Long term thinking and investment by politicians who are currently only concerned about getting re-elected and not about making this province liveable in twenty years.

2. Construction of at least 5000 MW of electrical generation over the next 15 years to replace aging stations, preferably with wind, solar, hydroelectric and nuclear to eliminate the fossil stations.

3. Regular investment in transmission infrastructure; not attempts at offloading degrading equipment by privatization to companies who couldn�t give a shit about ensuring that everyone has electricity.

4. Electrical conservation by everyone in North America, every day. On Monday, August 18, this province conserved over 4000 MW of electricity � the net power output of all eight Pickering units. Had people not done this, Toronto could have been blacked out again. A number of nay-sayers have indicated that their conservation of electricity won�t make a difference, but this past Monday has proven that is just not the case.

Historically, radical change has only occurred due to crisis, and the recent grid collapse is just that. It�s our first heart attack, telling us to stop stuffing those mighty beef-n-cheese electron burritos down our gullets and to lose some fucking weight. It�s time for all of us to turn off our cable, get off of our couches and tell our political leaders that we�re no longer going ignore the inevitable.

Gamma Fodder

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