When I sat down to write this article, I flipped on my desk lamp and powered up my laptop. The laptop was immediately bathed in a yellow disc of lamplight, the screen silently flashing to life, and it occurred to me that this is a luxury we all take for granted: power at our fingertips when we want it and as much as we can use.
But what happens when this luxury is suddenly turned off?
For some, it’s an annoyance at best, an inconvenience at worst. But for people who rely on electrical medical devices to sleep through the night, to move about, to power their feeding tubes or breathe freely, a power outage can mean isolation, or worse, a medical emergency.
Last year’s Public Safety Power Shut-offs (sometimes called PSPS) spurred Peninsula Clean Energy to spring into action with programs that provide solutions for people who rely on medical devices. According to Kirsten Andrews-Schwind, senior manager of community relations at PCE, “We were concerned about people who rely on medical devices after last year’s PSPS, and we wanted to find a solution.”
Their solution is two programs everyone should know about. The basic qualifications for both programs are the same: San Mateo County residents must rely on a medical device and live in an area designated as a high fire threat area or have experienced two PSPS. From there the options are quite different.
The first program is for owners of single-family homes. PCE is leveraging the cost savings available for homeowners through the state of California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program to help homeowners receive free battery storage units, which can be installed either with or without solar.
The second program is for people who rent their homes, or who own homes not suited for battery storage. This program provides free Yeti 3000X portable batteries to people who rent or who own condominiums or mobile homes. PCE purchased 150 batteries which are being delivered to qualified program participants by local hardware store Hassett Hardware, which is also providing training on how to use them.
Of course, any program is only successful if people know about it! In order to get the word out, PCE is partnering with Senior Coastsiders, Puente and other community organizations to spearhead a massive outreach effort to let our community know about these potential solutions to increase energy resiliency.
Through direct mailings, numerous social media posts, ads and stories in the Half Moon Bay Review, email campaigns, radio spots on KHMB, newsletter inserts and cold calls we have spread the word to more than 7,000 residents in the target area. Senior Coastsiders and Puente can help connect you to the program that best fits your needs.
If you think you qualify for either program, call Senior Coastsiders at 726-9056. If you prefer to communicate in Spanish, call Puente at (650) 879-1691. Or, if you prefer to have us call you, fill out an interest form at PCE’s website: peninsulacleanenergy.com/pop-medical/
I have spoken to more than 200 San Mateo County residents about their power backup and medical needs and this is just a small fraction of the people who could benefit from these programs. One of the first people I spoke with told me she was afraid she was going to die during the last PSPS because she was unable to breathe. The more I connected with vulnerable community members, the more I realized that this was a common fear and a shared experience. “I almost had to go to the hospital last year when the power went out.” “I can’t breathe without my machine.” “I didn’t know what to do.”
Now that Hassett Hardware has delivered almost 50 batteries, it’s clear that they are also delivering peace of mind. Many of the same people who expressed concern are now telling me how relieved and grateful they are.
Most of us might worry about our food spoiling or our phones running out of juice, but we’re probably not worried about taking our next breath. The program goal is for people who rely on medical devices to find a solution that gives them peace of mind during the next PSPS so they don’t have to worry about taking their next breath.
Casey McClung is project coordinator for Senior Coastsiders.