Last week I was telephoned by ‘Reporting Scotland’ (a Scottish TV programme) and asked to comment on the recent power loss situation in Arran and the Kintyre Peninsular, both situated on the west coast of Scotland. Last week they had a very heavy snowfall, causing snowdrifts of up to 5 feet in places and they also lost power. This was due to the heavy snowfall and ice, which brought down a number of critical power lines as well as two pylons which served the entire area. A large number of properties were without power for up to a week!
I was asked to comment on whether people could prepare for this type of incident and whether the power company could have done more to prevent this type of incident happening.
My first point is that people need to be responsible for themselves and make sure they have some personal resilience. When we had snow earlier in the year, the government put out lots of warning messages about making sure if you have to travel in the snow to take warm clothing, some food and a shovel just in case you get stuck.
If you are in a place, which is susceptible to power cuts, especially rural areas, you should be prepared for lack of power. This could include having a gas fire, having a camping stove and having either plenty torches or having some camping lanterns. Having these simple things put away in a cupboard ready to use, turns power loss during extreme cold conditions from a life-threatening situation to merely being an inconvenience. This also leaves those responding to the incident to concentrate on the elderly and the frail rather than the unprepared able bodied.
My second point is about businesses. Again, they need to be responsible for themselves. If it is critical to your business that you stay operating, such as running a hotel, then you should consider having a standby generator. Having standby generation may also be important for companies who provide a service a long way from their area of operation, such as a call centre, mail order company or datacentre operation. Your customers may not be aware of the incident in your part of the country and be unsympathetic to your failure to deliver service.
Your only other plan during power loss is to close down your business, send away any existing customers and shut and lock the doors until the power cut is over. This might be an acceptable solution when you have local customers affected by the incident, but not if you serve a wider area.
I was also asked whether the power company should have anticipated the incident and provided better resilience within the power grid. My point on this is that a different area always seems to be hit by these storms. There were huge storms in the Scottish Borders in 1998, which put large numbers of people out of power, and the same happened on the west coast of Scotland in 2005. The next storm maybe somewhere completely different. I know that in Shetland they have put in a heavy-duty power infrastructure because they are always having storms, but the cost of putting this throughout Scotland would be prohibitively expensive. I am pretty sure that people would not want their bills to go up by a large margin to pay for it.
After my moment of glory of being interviewed, my interview was never broadcast. Not sure why, perhaps my view was not want the BBC wanted people to hear or maybe I have the face only for radio!