The CERT team, the City of Ashland’s Community Emergency Response Team, typically concentrates on being prepared for an emergency situation such as a flood or a fire.
But at a meeting open to the public on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 1175 East Main Street, the volunteer emergency response organization will look into what it should be doing to prepare for an emergency situation of a different kind.
With the help of Ashland’s energy conservation guru Dick Wanderscheid, the group plans to discuss to what extent it may want to prepare for Peak Oil, or a similar-style event that could leave not only Ashland but perhaps the entire region or country without power or worse.
“I know Peak Oil is something a lot of people are talking about,” Lucy Edwards, Ashland’s CERT director, said. “I want to know what we are doing as a community. We’re so dependant on electricity. Are we prepared for an extended period without electricity? I’m not a doomsayer, but I want to have that conversation.”
Edwards said she is not an expert on Peak Oil, the idea that in the near future the world economy will drastically change when global energy demand severely exceeds the supply. But she knows there are a lot of people locally who are thinking long and hard about it.
She attended a recent meeting of the Jackson County Sustainability Network, a local grassroots organization that is trying to instigate greater preparation towards a time when fossil fuels aren’t as readily available to fuel our daily lives, and said more than 200 people showed up to watch a movie about how Cuba survived a mini-Peak Oil, when that nation lost its access to oil resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“I’m motivated by seeing our community stronger and more self-reliant,” she said. “People have to know that we are vulnerable. But if we talk about it more, we are stronger. We’re more prepared if we talk about it. The fact is we have to raise the questions.”
Edwards said both Peak Oil and global warming have “huge implications for emergency planners” in that either event could produce a disaster — natural or otherwise — that could potentially cause a major disruption in the way Ashlanders, and Americans in general, live their daily lives.
“Very hot temperatures mean we’ll all be kicking on the air conditioning,” she said. “Power outages happen all the time. The entire West could get kicked off the electric grid. Whether it’s decades in the coming or in an immediate sense, how do we stay safe? We should be preparing the same way we prepare for anything else. In the end, if all we do is use a little less electricity, is that such a bad thing.”
Edwards said CERT invited Wanderscheid to the meeting because as the director of Ashland’s electric department and conservation programs, he has first-hand knowledge of what kind of capacity the city has to be energy self-reliant.
However, Wanderscheid said it would take a massive capital outlay to make Ashland energy independent.
The entire city uses approximately 175 million kilowatt hours of electricity and the electricity-generating dam at the Reeder Reservoir can generate only 2 million kilowatts hours. The remainder the city buys from the Bonneville Power Administration, a private company that provides much of the power for the state and region.
“It would be very difficult to become self-reliant,” he said. “To be able to unplug from the grid is a huge expense that we just don’t have. Unless you want the electric rates to increase one hundred fold, it’s not realistic.”
That’s the bad news. The good news is Ashland already purchases 5 percent of its power from renewable, wind sources through a program offered by the BPA. Also, because of the numerous dams on western rivers, there is little fossil fuel-based electricity in the Pacific Northwest, Wanderscheid said. Therefore, he said, the region could continue to produce power at a relatively stable rate despite the price of crude oil.
But that’s not to say that something couldn’t happen that would take Ashland off the grid. He said the city was lucky it didn’t lose power during the 1997 flood, but that doesn’t mean it would be so lucky the next time.
“In the last emergency, we were fortunate to have not lost electricity,” he said, noting that in his 30 years with the city there have not been any sustained outages locally. “But it’s not unreasonable to think that in the future we could lose it.”
If that were to happen, he said, Ashlanders could be without both their phones as well as their refrigerators. In such an event, there are several city facilities, such as city hall, the council chambers and the police department, that would run on propane and diesel powered generators.
Wanderscheid said regardless of what happens or what could a little energy independence is probably a good thing.
“My feeling is regardless of whether we are going to run out of oil, it makes sense for economic, environmental and a security point of view to ween ourselves from oil onto a more sustainable future.”
Staff writer Robert Plain can be reached at 482-3456 x. 226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.