We need the cold - very cold - hard truth about the blackout
Well, at least we know what SCE&G's excuse will be when they try to raise rates again in a few months.
They need more space heaters.
In case you missed it because your power was out, or your teeth were chattering too much to hear the news, about 50,000 SCE&G customers lost their electricity on Tuesday - the coldest morning of the year.
The problem, as South Carolina Electric and Gas explained, was that a breaker froze at one of the utility's largest fossil fuel-fired plants, the one in Goose Creek. And you know what happens when a breaker trips.
They fixed this problem Tuesday evening with a different sort of jury-rigging than the kind that occurs when your electric rates go up: they put space heaters around the breakers.
And you thought Mickey Mouse was just for Florida.
The company says it was an unforeseeable problem, and that's probably the truth. Never can tell when a pesky breaker is going to freeze. That is, if you assume engineers don't know the temperature at which a breaker freezes, or don't spend much time watching The Weather Channel.
Maybe they just thought the Polar Vortex was a new fountain drink at the Kangaroo.
With great power
SCE&G saw a record-high demand for power Tuesday morning, which was about as tough to predict as Republicans opposing a Democrat's proposal (or vice versa).
When the Goose Creek plant went down, the utility chose to alleviate stress on the overtaxed grid with rolling blackouts - South Carolina's first in decades.
Just when we needed our own space heaters the most. Despite the frigid temperatures, some people were plenty hot.
Perhaps the biggest faux pas with this solution is that no one knew the blackouts were coming until they started rolling. Now, in fairness, SCE&G had to move quickly to keep the grid safe. But they've got a lot of employees - surely one of them could have picked up a phone a few minutes before all this commenced.
"They should contact the city and let them know they are going to have traffic signals down," says Cheryll Woods-Flowers, former mayor of Mount Pleasant. "You don't just shut the power off . we don't live in a third world country."
No, it only felt that way Tuesday morning.
Sure, bad things are going to happen - and usually at inconvenient moments. But a lot of people have said this week that a company with a monopoly has a great responsibility to minimize that sort of stuff and keep the lights, and heat, on.
Especially with the rates we pay.
State regulators have taken a keen interest in what happened Tuesday.
C. Dukes Scott, executive director of the Office of Regulatory Staff (which oversees the state's utilities), says his staff will be checking up on what went down.
A breaker malfunction can happen, Scott says, and the system responded the way it was designed to. But the question is this: why exactly did it happen in Goose Creek and not, say, at a Duke Energy plant in the Upstate, where it was a tad colder?
It's a fair question.
And then there's that rolling blackout, the first Scott has seen in 33 years of South Carolina utilities regulating.
In Richland County, some schools lost power - and they are supposed to be exempt under rolling blackouts. Hospitals are, too, but there are reports that at least two momentarily lost electricity. Luckily, hospitals routinely have back-up generators because, well, it's rarely a good idea to shut down medical equipment for 15 or 20 minutes.
Of course, back-up generators didn't help people using medical equipment in their homes, which are obviously not exempt under rolling blackout protocol.
"There are some lessons to be learned from this," Scott says.
And the Office of Regulatory Staff plans to school all the utilities on this textbook foul-up.
So thank a state regulator the next time you snuggle up to a warm heating duct.
That is infinitely more comforting than the hot air coming from a corporate apology.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org