On the Right Lane: An electrifying experience


“We believe that electricity exists, because the electric company keeps sending us bills for it, but we cannot figure out how it travels inside wires.”
Dave Barry, humor columnist and author

Last Saturday I was talking with a friend on the telephone when suddenly the lights in our house flashed on and off several times and then the house went dark. It’s not like it wasn’t expected. The storm was predicted some days in advance and what the weather forecasters predicted pretty much happened. This time at least our power was only out for an hour or so, and we had turned up our thermostat just in case such a thing did happen. If the figures were correct, somewhere around 80,000 Mainers lost power and Sunday morning nearly 28,000 Mainers still were without it.

At least this time, for us, the power was not out for days. Either electricity hates me or I have been cursed.

I will start way back in 1968 shortly after I arrived in Vietnam. I was in an infantry unit and on patrol in an area that wasn’t solid jungle foliage. As a matter of fact, we were walking over small, rolling hills that were more or less covered in tall grass wet from recent showers. It was overcast with dark clouds, but we didn’t see any lightning or hear any thunder. All of a sudden all of us on the top of a hill were flattened by a lightning strike. Two were killed and I was transported to a hospital by a medevac helicopter.

Fast forward to 1987 when I was stationed in Alabama and living in swinging Ozark. We were impressed by the ferocity of the thunderstorms in the South, but something else impressed us when one morning we smelled what had to be coming from an electric malfunction. I even climbed up to the attic, but found nothing. However, when I opened the door to the garage attached to the house I was met by a nice cloud of smoke. The insulation inside the water heater tank was burning. For some reason the circuit breaker didn’t cut the power to the heater, so I did. A decade later we could still smell that smoke inside our Chevrolet Camaro. And to add insult to injury, when we lived in Lee, Maine, another electric water heater decided to do pretty much the same thing.

Moving to Windham I enjoyed another experience when lightning turned the inside of our house a bright neon blue in, well, just a flash. We never discovered where it either hit or entered the house but my wife had gone to bed early and came screaming out of the bedroom. Funny thing is we found no damage whatsoever, but our microwave oven which had a couple of non-working buttons was suddenly repaired and has worked fine for several years. I guess it’s needless to say that one will not see me during thunderstorms. Maybe we should move to the Arctic Circle but my luck would only bring lots of hungry polar bears.

I know our electricity provider is doing their best to trim trees and branches away from power lines, which some property owners despise. I have seen many instances where trees can still fall on those lines, but even I would probably be upset if many trees were removed. The only alternative I can see is burying the power lines underground, which I know is time consuming and expensive. I lived in Germany almost 10 years and experienced only one power outage because lightning made a direct hit to the building.

Some say the best thing is to let government provide us with electricity. The biggest problem there is that when government fails, the only answer is to pour more taxpayer money into it. That’s not a solution but a huge problem with a shocking result.

Lane Hiltunen of Windham believes Maine’s problems with the high price of electricity lies with electrons and doesn’t mean the ones running through the wires.