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Power outages in California highlight economic difference



When the nation's largest utility warned customers that it would cut power to nearly 2 million people across Northern California, many rushed out to buy portable generators and knew the investment could help sustain them during the blackout.

Others had the security of knowing that they could rely on solar panels and batteries installed in their homes.

However, many families affected by the blackouts struggle from paycheck to paycheck and do not have the luxury of buying backups.

The blackouts highlight a divide in a region of increasing income inequality where access to electricity is becoming increasingly accessible to those who can afford to pay.

Communities in the San Francisco Bay area are already dependent on financial imbalance as the technology industry has drawn wealthy workers to the region, pushing lower-middle-income families further away from expensive urban centers.

There are 1.7 million people in the Bay Area who do not have the resources to meet their basic needs, according to Tipping Point, an organization that combats poverty in the region.

Generators and solar panels are the latest low-income families to think about during the blackout, said Mary Kuhn, spokeswoman for Catholic Charity East Bay. Many are struggling with lost wages because restaurants or other businesses that pay per hour are temporarily closed.

"They face, what should I feed my kids if I can't cook and this food is spoiled? And how will I feed my kids next week?" Kuhn said.

Meanwhile, solar companies are seeing a spike in interest from customers seeking alternatives for when power fails.

Sunrun, which rents out and sells solar power systems, said the traffic to its website explains how power supply through power outages with its solar and battery systems has increased by 1500% in recent days.

Retired firefighter Derek Krause, who lives in Oakland, rents solar panels and a Sunrun battery for around $ 150 a month, which includes the electricity cost.

Krause was unaware that this week's power outage had hit his neighborhood because his backup started when his neighbors' lights went out. PG&E's promise to cut power more often was one of the reasons why he decided to install the system in February.

"Having taught the public about self-sustainability during emergencies, it was important to me," Krause said. [19659002] Buying a solar system that can run during a blackout can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Solar panels alone do not do the trick; An internal switch turns off the panels during a power outage to prevent the panels from sending power to wiring around the home. Having a battery solves this problem, but also gives the cost.

In Paradise, the northern California city that was decimated last year by fires that killed 85 people, many of the remaining residents have generators that they have dropped for power during several planned power outages such as PG & amp; E adopted there this year.

They often shed light on the situation and post pictures on social media of power lines winding through their homes, Councilman Michael Zuccolillo said.

Zuccolillo bought $ 500 a Costco gasoline generator and goes through two or three gallons of gasoline a day, using it to operate refrigerators, TVs, lights and phone chargers.

"In the morning we have a cord, and we switch it between the coffee pot and toaster," Zuccolillo said.

Many portable generators cost $ 1,000 or more, and fixed standby generators cost at least $ 2000, with an installation price code that can cost $ 10,000 or more, according to Consumer Reports.

Solar panels and generators are not necessarily an option for people renting apartments.

"I think these are the last things people think of when they have a limited income," Sa Kuhn.

In Silicon Valley, many technology companies have backup power to ensure that critical servers or systems do not crash. Some entrepreneurs who run tech companies out of their homes have uninterrupted power supplies, or standby generators powered by natural gas, said Daniel Aldrich, director of the master's program in safety and resilience at Northeastern University. But many simply cannot afford these alternatives.

"Times like these, they always reveal what is actually happening in society, or they accelerate existing trends," Aldrich said. "For the ordinary people in California, people with blue collars, people on atomizers or oxygen machines … for the people who are vulnerable, those individuals, now their lives could be in danger."

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AP Writers Barbara Ortutay and Olga Rodriguez of San Francisco contributed to this report.


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