Ten-amp service

Most of us think of things like water and electricity as just something that’s there. Something we can, and do, depend upon.

I was raised, until I turned 12, in a story-and-a-half, 1,280-square-foot house. When Arthur Staples built the place in 1950, it was without electricity. Heat was a wood stove and light was a pair of gasoline-fueled Coleman lanterns. Both the kitchen stove and refrigerator ran on propane gas delivered in large cylinders about the height and twice the diameter of a welder’s acetylene tank.

I think I was about 10 when Dad finally put together the money and desire for electricity. We lived at the end of a half-mile driveway, three miles from town, and planting poles and running wire was not profitable for the power company. We now often hear from Internet companies about how it costs too much to run service to rural neighborhoods because there are not enough customers; in those days, electricity was the resource too expensive to bring to rural users.

I helped Dad run wires through the house, bringing to the family the magic of flipping a switch to extend daylight into evening, allowing one to read a book after dinner. Electricity also powered the Stromberg-Carlson console radio – a cabinet with a split cover that hid the radio and record player. Mom loved classical music and books, two of the most important gifts she gave to me.

We did not have a television until 1960, when Mom thought we kids would benefit from seeing the presidential election. She favored the young Catholic fellow from Boston, only a few months older than Mom, who also was Catholic and from Boston.

Also in 1960, we built a new home a hundred feet or so from the first, with a basement-garage and an electrically-controlled oil-fired water heater for the shower and winter heat.

The original house became a guest cottage until, a quarter-century and a career in the U.S. Navy later, I moved back into it with my family.

I soon discovered we could not make popcorn and run the microwave at the same time, and my computer required a battery backup to keep from shutting down when I was writing and the kids wanted to watch television.

That was when I discovered the wiring I had helped install provided only a ten-amp service. Until that point, I knew nothing about residential electric service. Until then, my computer worked, the microwave heated food and the coffee maker made coffee, all at the same time. Occasionally, a gremlin would cause a circuit breaker, to “blow;” a few quick steps to the electrical panel fixed that problem.

When ten-amp electrical service was normal, we had no idea we would, within my lifetime, need 20 times as much to power our homes.

Now there are signs of another impending normal on our near horizon. Our drive to leave no grass unpaved has caused climate change to burn our western watersheds. Water rationing in Los Angeles is being imposed in an attempt to maintain sufficient water to drive the electricity generators in the Hoover Dam, some 300 miles away.

Explosive human residential and agricultural growth in our western states has been largely based on water stolen from rivers hundreds of miles from the developers who profited. Planners are looking eastward as pipelines become increasingly viable solutions to western water shortages.

In the end, that will only spread the problem. With opposition running strong to our switching away from fossil fuels and NIMBYs blocking efforts to develop alternatives, we may all be running our homes on ten-amps of electricity.

Thanks for reading along. I do hope you found the ride worth sharing.

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