In the wake of the Thursday, Oct. 17 nor’easter with winds of up to 90 mph Eversource received over 100,000 Cape Cod power outage reports. According to Eversource representative Reid Lamberty, restoration efforts lasted over 72 hours, with the last customer back online the following Sunday morning.
The coming winter is forecast to be colder and snowier than 2019. “This could feel like the never-ending winter … wintery weather will last well into March and even through the first days of spring,” writes 2020 Farmer’s Almanac editor Janice Stillman.
An extended power outage in freezing weather can be hazardous to both property and personal well-being, with frozen pipes, flooding, power surge damage to outlets and appliances, electrical fires, and spoiled food. According to Paul Silva, president of Benson Young & Downs Insurance, home owners’ claims after a storm usually are about food losses and appliance damage.
Some home owners are installing electric house generators to avoid such losses and guard against hours or days of cold and darkness. Putting in a generator is a three-step process involving town permitting, the electric company, and a gas or propane propane company.
The initial step in the process is for the home owner to contract an electric company, which would apply for an electric work permit with the town building department for a fee ($100 in Provincetown, $50 in Truro). With the generator installed, the home owner would have a gas company do the propane hookup for the unit (gas permit fees for one fixture are $75 in Provincetown and $50 in Truro).
According to Amy Dinger of Long Point Electric, installing a house generator can be done in a day with the total cost ranging from $9,000 to $11,000.
Dinger explains how people’s needs shape their views of the tradeoffs. “We have a client whose husband needs an oxygen machine, so they installed a generator for medical reasons,” she says.
Electrician John Boden of Wellfleet explains that the electrical part of connecting a house generator is only one aspect of the work.
“You have to add an extra electrical panel that controls whatever appliances you want to run on the generator,” he says. “When the power goes it will automatically switch on. But then you have to get a gas company to do the gas or propane connection.”
Provincetown, Truro, and Wellfleet do not have municipal natural gas lines, so house generators require a propane hookup. “If you don’t already have a tank, you have to get the gas company to install one and then do the hookup, and that’s a separate expense,” Boden says.
He also explains that most automatic building generators will go through a weekly maintenance cycle where they kick on for 15 to 30 minutes, and that “they also need yearly maintenance like oil changes.”
If the cost seems prohibitive, it is possible to borrow for a generator. A personal unsecured loan, home improvement loan, home equity line of credit, or green loan for energy efficiency are some of the options, according to Trevor McCarthy, branch manager at Seamen’s Bank in Provincetown.
The less expensive alternative is a portable generator. “If you really just wanted to keep your fridge and heater running, a portable generator is enough,” Amy Dinger says. She recommends Kohler and Generac as the most popular brands, with prices ranging from $700 to $3,000.
“A well-maintained generator will run for as long as you can supply it with gas,” Dinger says.
Robert Lymbertos, owner of the Underground, a year-round below-sea-level bar in Provincetown, uses a portable generator; the existing building generator at the location he rents isn’t hooked up.
“The landlord wants nothing to do with [the expense],” he says. “It’s my problem as the business owner.” His $2,000 Honda generator provides enough power to run the sump pumps and prevent flooding. Without it, a flood like he experienced in the winter of 2018 could cause an estimated $20,000 in damage, from “refrigeration, paper goods, blown electrical sockets, beer, not even talking about cleanup and garbage disposal,” Lymbertos says.
Electrician Boden recommends getting professional help to install a manual transfer switch for a portable generator. Connecting a portable generator to an appliance or to electrical outlets using a heavy-duty power cord is called “backfeeding” and can damage a residence and even the entire neighborhood power grid. “The power comes back on, overloads the lines, and you blow up your appliances — or worse,” Boden says.
Outer Cape towns are also gearing up to better help residents weather extended power outages. Health Agent Morgan Clark says Provincetown will open warming stations as “a function of the number of people affected and the time of year.”
The Provincetown Public Library building is acquiring a generator, and the town is moving towards that being the “default warming center once the new generator is operational,” says Clark. “In the meantime, we can open either town hall or the Veterans Memorial Community Center as a warming station, depending on the type of storm.” DPW head Rich Waldo said the department anticipates the library generator being installed and functioning within one year.
Truro’s warming stations are typically set up at the public safety facility or Truro Community Center, says Truro Assistant Town Manager Kelly Clark.
Clark urges residents to sign up for alert services, available at alerts.provincetown-ma.gov, for “the most up-to-date information on Provincetown’s storm response or other emergency operations. That’s how we’ll share information about a warming center or shelter opening,” she says.
If you plan to head for a warming center during an outage, the Mass. Emergency Management Agency advises stocking up on portable light sources and batteries, leaving your fridge and freezer on the lowest setting (allowing for 24-hour fridge food safety and 48-hour freezer food safety), and unplugging other appliances to avoid electrical fires in case of surges.
Ace Hardware in Provincetown has a generator and will be available in an outage for batteries and other hardware needs.
Gas up your car if there’s a storm in the forecast. Stations on the Outer Cape are not equipped with generators. According to Cumberland Farms, their stores have the ability to be hooked up to portable generators. The Eastham Cumby’s received a generator during the Oct. 17 outage, but they do not have a permanent generator on site.
For those with medical needs during an extended power outage, Outer Cape Health Services in Provincetown has a building generator that allows it to operate at full capacity. In addition to full pharmacy services, Outer Cape “would be able to assess and treat any urgent care needs as we always do, along with X-rays and labs in the health center,” says spokesman Gerry Desautels.
Since washing-ashore to the Lower Cape in 2004, Andreea Freeman has been a part of Provincetown’s service industry, working in multiple businesses, including currently at Salty Market in North Truro, where she is the store manager. She is a class of 2008 graduate of American University in Bulgaria with a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication.