Rich Californians shelling out $30,000 to ease PG&E blackout pain


By Sophie Alexande | Bloomberg

Ebony Lopez’s electric company in Napa wine country used to get a handful of inquiries a week from people asking about generators. After PG&E Corp. shut power to millions of Californians last month, it’s more like 10 to 15 calls a day.

“It’s been nonstop,” Lopez said. “People are definitely being reactive.”

As Californians face years of intentional blackouts — a strategy by the state’s utilities to prevent wildfires — homeowners are rushing to find alternative sources of power to keep the lights on. Last month’s outages, in particular, swept across affluent areas just outside of San Francisco, hitting people who have the means to pay up for pricey equipment.

The trend isn’t unique to California. With climate change colliding with an aging grid, residents of areas from snowy New England to the hurricane-threatened South face more disruptions to power. But with costs for whole-house generators or solar and battery packages running tens of thousands of dollars, the demand for backup systems underscores a stark reality: Wealthy people will be able to endure outages while the poor are left in the dark.

“Like a lot of things that we’re talking about in society today and the inequality that exists, that gap in inequality could show up in even how you get your power,” said Aaron Jagdfeld, chief executive officer of Generac Holdings Inc., the country’s biggest standby generator company. Its shares climbed 1.6% to $98.84 at 9:58 a.m. in New York and have almost doubled this year on the prospect of rising demand.

Generac sells portable generators for as little as $439, but the higher-end, permanently installed automatic generators the company specializes in run as high as $30,699 for the most robust residential unit, which is strong enough to power a convenience store. Installation costs about $10,000 on top of that for any of its standby models.

Generac’s sales are up 300% in California this year, Jagdfeld said. Demand is so brisk that the Waukesha, Wisconsin-based company is considering opening a Sacramento office for training, inventory and retail.

PG&E, in bankruptcy because of billions of dollars in liabilities from deadly fires sparked by its equipment, has warned that it may take 10 years to dramatically reduce intentional power shutoffs during dangerous weather. Its blackouts have stretched from lower-income regions in the Sierra Foothills to wealthy communities such as Marin County, which has some of the highest home values in the country. The wine-growing areas of Napa and Sonoma counties have been hit multiple times.

While rain was forecast to hit the region Tuesday, signaling the much-anticipated start of the wet season and diminishing the threat of fires, Californians are preparing for the years ahead.

The power outages “opened people’s eyes to disaster preparedness and how important it is,” said Ed Lynch, a real estate broker with a home in Napa County. After PG&E cut his power three times this year, he looked into solar panels and backup batteries for his three-bedroom house. The price tag: $61,000.

“I’m definitely going to do it,” he said.

Solar panels are …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Lifestyle

      

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