Power the pumps

Gov. Christine Gregoire has ordered the head of WA’s Emergency Management Division to review how the state responded to the recent wind storm and power outage. My guess is that the report will be mixed.

There are of course a lot of things we need to do better, but I’ve got a suggestion that’s pretty straight forward, and would surely ease the crisis in the wake of future disasters: require the installation of backup generators at filling stations.

Residents throughout the Puget Sound region faced an artificial fuel shortage in the days following the wind storm due to power outages that left filling stations unable to pump gas. Had this been a major disaster — like a massive earthquake — this fuel shortage would have greatly magnified the human misery, preventing residents who had lost their homes from leaving the region. And in the end, it’s not much good installing a generator at your home or business if you are unable to purchase the fuel to run it during a prolonged power outage.

Gas stations are a critical part of our transportation and economic infrastructure, especially in such an automobile-centric region. It only makes sense that we attempt to keep them operating during future emergencies.

I’m not sure what the costs would be, but it’s hard to imagine that a backup generator and hookup sufficient to run the pumps would cost much more than a few thousand dollars per station. And it is very hard to argue that a state law mandating and/or heavily incentivizing such installations would not be in the public interest.

I dunno… just seems like common sense to me.


  1. 1

    Richard Pope spews:

    Actually, this suggestion makes a lot of sense. And the State of Washington sure as hell can use the revenue that is generated by the gasoline tax. So it is vital to the government that gasoline stations be able to pump gas under forseeable circumstances.

  2. 2

    Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

    State of Florida has law like this along hurricane escape routes. Heard a guy from FL on KIRO coupla days ago talking about it. Seems like good idea.

    Gas station owners have access to a fleet of portable generators. They buy an “option” to get the generator when they need it. In the meantime, the companies that actually own the generators lease them out to other customers on an interruptable basis. This way, the generators pay for themselves costing the gas station owners nothing. The gas stations do need to install a transfer switch at some minimal cost.

  3. 3

    Jimbo spews:

    As someone who has done a few of these I can tell you it is expensive. Generators and transfer switch alone to run a station are close to 100 grand, let alone installation costs.

  4. 4

    Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

    Let’s hope this is all Mrs. Gregoire and the rest of the girlz decide to do. They SAS should not decide to meddle with how electric utilities design and operate their grids. It’s WELL beyond their ability to understand.

  5. 5

    Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

    The guy from Florida said it was between 3k and 10k the way they did it.

  6. 6

    K spews:

    An essential part of any emergency response is post-incident evaluation. We all make mistakes and should look for ways to improve. THis suggestion does seem like a good one. Perhaps business impacts could be mitigated by an offset of the station B&O tax, up to a cap.

  7. 7

    Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

    Jimbo – Is this for the whole gas station? No need to do the coolers and all the lights. No need to sell lottery ticket and cigarettes.

    Just run the pumps and maybe enough for the computer to take the debit/credit card.

  8. 8

    Goldy spews:

    Jimbo @3,

    “100 grand”…? Hard to believe. We’re not talking about powering the entire facility, just the pumps. How much power does a pump draw?

  9. 9

    Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

    K – How the fuck does a B&O tax reduction put gas in the tank? Geez….

  10. 11

    Richard Pope spews:

    It might cost a lot to have a generator powerful enough to operate all the refrigerators and freezers at a typical convenience gas station. But the amount of juice required to operate just the pumps and cash register would be much less.

  11. 13

    K spews:

    MTR- are you just an asshole looking for an argument? If the State imposes a requirement, (stations bear costs to install switches, perhaps buying generators) it is reasonable for the state to offset costs. THey all pay B&O. If there’s another better tax to credit, that’s OK too.

    Ignore my first question. I know the answer.

  12. 15

    Richard Pope spews:

    “A petroleum-retailing site requires at least a 15-kilowatt generator, Frank said, to run pumps for the fuel dispensers, as well as lights. A 15-kilowater generator typically costs between $7,000 and $8,000, according to Frank.”


    Really? If I could just get the contract for supplying generators to all the service stations in Florida! Get a bunch of 17.5 kW generators from Home Depot for $2,499 each, and re-sell them to thousands of Florida service stations for $7,000 each!

  13. 16

    Richard Pope spews:

    Maybe Goldy can get into this business. Get Gregoire to allow a $20K B&O tax credit per station. Set up a business to charge $20K per station for this. Pay electricians $2.5K for transfer switch installation, and $2.5K to Home Depot for generators. This is a nice $15K profit per station.

  14. 17

    Particle Man spews:

    It would also be a good and long overdue idea to mandate that all assisted living facilities have backup generators on site or under contract in order to be licensed.

  15. 20

    Greg spews:

    How about if folks were just prudent enough to fill a tank when a severe storm is predicted, as this last one was, four days in advance?

    The problems of carbon monoxide are broadly known and well documented, and yet we’ve had folks dying of carbon monoxide poisoning from burning charcoal braziers inside their homes.

    This is the sort of thing chronicled in the Darwin Awards. It’s not really something the state needs to spend a few million dollars to correct.

  16. 21

    rhp6033 spews:

    One problem with using generators that are leased out, until they are needed. The ability to recover the generators when they are needed may be hampered in an emergency. I can imagine the leasing company telling King5News, two days into a blackout, that they can’t get generators to service stations because the roads leading to the company leasing them are blocked by fallen trees, or the company closed anyway because none of their employees or customers could get to their location, so the doors are locked and nobody answers the phone.

    I think they should have dedicated generators. It’s really not that big a cost, considering all their other expenses. They tend to do station re-works every five years or so, simply make the new generator a condition to issuing a new Dept. of Ecology permit when they change their dispensers. Within five years, ten at the outside, most service stations would be changed over by then.

  17. 22

    Jimbo spews:

    The cost i stated was for a typical 400 amp generator and transfer switch. A station could probably get by with 1/2 that size. Yes you could drop the coolers and non essentials.As per code you would have to size big enough to run pumps, all safety equipment and full lighting which can be a pretty good load. Labor wise on a new installation cost would be low, retrofit would vary alot.

  18. 23

    me spews:

    If you fire up that generator (at home or the gas station) after an earthquake there might be natural gas in the air due to a broken gas main. Kaboom!

    If large numbers of people need to leave the area the national guard can set up filling stations with their tanker trucks.

    Also, with home generators if you wired it into your house, but don’t have the gizmo that prevents the power you’re creating to bleed back into the power lines you could fry a lineman.

    I don’t think wide spread generator use is that grand of an idea. You should note that during the last power outage zero people died from exposure to cold.

  19. 24

    Tee Jay spews:

    The State regulates Utilities. Power (and gas were available) need to go to life-support first, then to logistics, including fuel supplies.

    Encourage the station operators to select one station per neighborhood and jointly put in a generator. But you also need to keep power to the pipeline terminal so that fuel is available to re-supply the stations.

    Enlist the retail operators in seeking a solution, as well as the oil companies. Their creativity may surprise you.

    Based on your earlier posts, maybe the coffee shops are a higher priority.

  20. 25

    rhp6033 spews:

    Gregg at 20 said, (and my comments follow):

    “How about if folks were just prudent enough to fill a tank when a severe storm is predicted, as this last one was, four days in advance?”

    That seems to be a reasonable request for a wind or snow storm. But I dont’ think it will work in an earthquake.

    “The problems of carbon monoxide are broadly known and well documented, and yet we’ve had folks dying of carbon monoxide poisoning from burning charcoal braziers inside their homes.”

    I don’t know about all the deaths or injuries, but some of the ones I saw on TV tended to show immigrant families from relatively tropical countries (northern Africa, S.E. Asia). I’m guessing that (a) they don’t have prior experience with generators, (b) they aren’t that used to the cold yet, and (c) their homes in their previous countries might have been loosely constructed to allow breezes to enter, rather than the close-to-airtight construction we have here for energy efficiency. A charcoal fire inside a hut in Africa might not be a problem, but it sure is here. One of the things the study will need to do is figure out how to educate everyone about these dangers, and remember that it is not a one-time process, as new immigrants arrive daily.

    “This is the sort of thing chronicled in the Darwin Awards. It’s not really something the state needs to spend a few million dollars to correct.”

    If you say so. Personally, I would rather spend a few bucks to get the word out than to see bodies of children being removed from houses every time we have a power problem.

  21. 27

    me spews:

    Yes, MWS, and if they had just covered up with a couple extra blankets they’d still be alive.

  22. 28

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    15 et seq. — Uh, Richard, these things aren’t plug-and-play. They need to be properly installed by a licensed electrician.

  23. 29

    Mike Webb SUCKS spews:

    For idiots like YLB-Clueless that’s carbon monoxide – CO.

    Notice he brought nothing to the discussion, as always! An empty suit.

    Be sure to watch for his other comment, November 7th. Run along now YLB-Clueless!

    So this is another Moonbat! mandate? Hmmm… I must admit the thought has potential.

    Regarding making them earthquake proof, one could place them in an aerated plexiglass container with fill holes an exhaust opening to protect the fuel from the generator or they could be installed with motion sensors that trip them off when the Richter value hits a specified level.

  24. 30

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    20 How about if folks were just prudent enough to fill a tank when a severe storm is predicted, as this last one was, four days in advance?

    And if the power is still out when they run out of gas?

  25. 31

    Mike Webb SUCKS spews:

    Since the Moonbat!s are so Earth conscious, I was wondering why none of you suggested one of the neighborhood gas stations be made green. You know, they have the solar/electrical exchangers with large batteries to run the station for a while. The generator would only need to run to keep the batteries at a voltaic/amperic level.

  26. 32

    Mike Webb sucks "Mike Webb SUCKS" spews:

    31, so being Earth conscious is bad? Are you really that insecure?

  27. 35

    me spews:

    Sorry, but I filled up my gas tank and made sure I had wood for the wood stove and propane for the camp stove,BEFORE the storm hit .

    I don’t think being out of power for 2 or 3 days is that big of deal.

  28. 36

    Mike Webb SUCKS spews:

    Me@34: Those comments are not about you.

    YLB is YOS LIB BRO. He’s also known as Clueless. November 7th is the only other thing he blogs about besides MTR’s betting debt.

  29. 37

    Dan Rather spews:

    How about making gas tax free during black outs. I bet you that every gas station in the region would have a back up generator or two. Of course there would be a lot more black outs too. hehehehe

  30. 38

    klake spews:

    A folk how about evacuating the city of Seattle before the storm to Canada and everyone wins. To cost to anyone except those who prepare for such an event. The Canada needs more fine outstanding citizens and loves socialist.

  31. 40

    David spews:

    As has already been stated, filling up ahead of time is great for a storm you know is coming and not really workable for an earthquake.

  32. 41

    David Wright spews:

    Goldy, do you really believe that every bright idea needs to become a law, or do you write this stuff just to rile libertarians?

    Has it occured to you that gas station (and restaurant, and grocery store) owners arround the area have probably noticed that the stores that remained open made a lot of money? That, moved by the evil corporate profit motive, they are probably this very minute investigating their load requirements, getting bids from electrical contractors, and paying their lawyers to find out whether running a generator wouldn’t run afoul of any of the other gazillion noise, saftey, pollution, and other laws that previous bright ideas have spawned? And that, if it turns out to be legal and cost-effective, they will buy generators without your damn law?

    If you are still so gung-ho on laws requiring generators, I propose that we mandate that all bloggers who earn money from advertisments be required to buy a generator for their homes, so that we don’t have to read their bitch-and-moan posts when their power goes out. It would be in the public interest.

  33. 42

    mr rcguy spews:

    @3 and @8:

    The cost is actually very expensive. For all you idiots who say, “Just power the pumps” what about the electronics in the store that allow the pumps to actually dispense gas? I’m not talking about the entire store but the pumps are based on a computer system that actually forces people to pay before they dispense gas. That system is run on a combination of phone / dsl / satelite lines that also take power. This also includes cut-off switches and overhead lighting as required by OSHA.

    So now you are talking a generator and the auto-switching (or manual) to switch from power company to generator. You are also talking about a place (that is protected from elements, thieves, etc.) to put a generator, and the place for an extended gas tank to run that generator.

    This isn’t as inexpensive as some of you nuanced people might think. You have all these dolts saying how cheap you can do it. And you could do it on an adHoc basis but the first time the generator can’t be delivered because of bad road conditions (i.e. and earthquake or snow or downed trees) these same brain surgeons will complain that generators should have been a perm. fixture and what a lack of vision for not requiring it.

    Do it and do it right. And to do it right takes a fairly substantial sum of money. Or put the onous back on people (you know ,,, that responsibility thing) to be prepared. We have such a fucking nanny state and entitilement mentality that we have actually gotten away from helping neighbors out. My family offered up our home to friends and family and neighbors without power, how many of you did?

    Personally I’d like to see an English requirement on ALL immigrants so they could easily be told about CO poinsoning, or other life threatening things, instead of trying to disseminate that information in a host of differing dialects and possibly missing one. The lowest common denominator for languages in our country is still English. Let’s just use that. Oh and I can see all the whining about how “unfair” that is but turn that around. How unfair was it to the entire family that died of CO poisoning that we, as citizens, didn’t require a better understading of our language that would have resulted in that family understanding the warning labels on the generator?

  34. 43

    horse whisperer spews:

    Goldy, good point and I agree. Even for those with generator’s, it’s not a good idea or even safe to be storing a lot of gas. With wind we have warning but we should all do a better job of filling up prior to the guage hitting the bottom.

  35. 44

    horse whisperer spews:

    Actually running pumps takes quite a bit of generator juice. Even if a station were only mandated to be able to run half of the pumps by generator it would sure help. Sure some lines but one wouldn’t have to drive all over to find gas and easier fo finance for the little guys.

  36. 45


    Two comments.

    One I hate any government intervention in what is a market equation. Those stations that want to install the generators will reap the rewardss, those that do not will suffer the loss.

    As has been noted the pumps cannot operate without their supporting systems, like ways to pay for it, so saying just enough to pump is not enough. You effective have to power a lot of the station.

    And gasoline was not really a household need as much as propane or water and food, so unless the real goal is to power up the mini marts, I say it is just more needless intrusion.

    Yes, some people needed it for generators at home, but that is a relaitive tiny percentage.

    And this is one step closer to making the government act in a nanny way over the gas industry as they already do over so many others.

    One side note, I never saw any indications of gouging or proce increases, which makes the shortage more inconvenient then anything.

  37. 46

    GS spews:

    My guess is she sat on her ass in the midst of this outage instead of acting!

    Great Job Christine, once again!

  38. 47

    righton spews:

    So why is this the job of government…?

    I mean, w/ the expansion of socialism/nanny state, first thought is to mandate this tax (on gas station owners)

    Power of gov’t brought to bear on minority of the populace, for benefit of the majority (i guess). (from those that have to those that need?)

    I’m all for regulating the safety part of gas stations, but not the semi logical extension argument that suggests public safety depends on gas station guys taking it in the chin.

    But if you want to, why not

    a) taxi drivers must install 100g tanks for emerg backup so they can pick up people
    b) grocers must stay open
    c) condo building owners must install backup heat units
    d) charcoal bags must contain CO monitor

    No end to the nanny state, and you do this at a cost to society (yeah, our gas prices will go up).

  39. 48

    mr rcguy spews:


    Well GS it is not really her job now is it? I watched the news casts for 3 days leading up to the storm. There was never any doubt that there would be wide spread and lengthy outages. And almost every news cast contained some interview w/ a power company employee saying how prepared they were for the storm; crews on standby, extra equipment and supplies laid in and ready. Her job was to facilitate the flow of money and she did that. She correctly left the emergency management of the power grid to the experts.

    I know it sucks to be without power for extended periods of time. I lived in Kingston for 6 years where somebody sneezed and the power could be out for a day or more. We learned quickly that you need to keep a supply of essentials at all time, and that you can easily survive for days without power. The loss of food in the fridge is a drag but it’s part life.

    I dislike Gregoire. I don’t think she’s been terrible but I’m a fiscal conservative and I see her geering up to put in place spending that only works in the good times and breaks a few years down the road when revenue for the state slackens. BUT she did a good in regard to this latest storm.