The so-called ďdog daysĒ are in full force, as
the hovering heat and heavy humidity of Tidewater and Piedmont Virginia make
brief outdoor walks seem like long hikes through a jumbo microwave oven set
on high. (Those in Virginiaís Shenandoah Valley and Allegheny Highlands,
on the other hand, generally enjoy during this time of year the cool
meteorological benefits of altitude that they may curse in February.)
Yet contrary to popular myth, the dog days that have their roots so firmly imbedded in the muggy soil
of meteorology derive their name from the stars, from ancient astronomy. The
Romans, it seems, wanted an explanation as to why mid-summer often brought
with its heat more deaths, more rabid dogs, and more snakebites. A couple of
thousand years ago, they werenít aware that poor sanitation produces
dysentery and typhoid fever. They also didnít know that snakes are
temporarily blind when shedding their skins (which happens more this time of
year), and because of this blindness are more likely to bite. Instead, Roman
soothsayers and stargazers blamed the scary seasonal happenings on the
stars, specifically on Canicula, the Dog Star (the star the Egyptians called
Sirius), which during this season is in conjunction with the sun. And thus,
according to the late esteemed nature writer Hal Borland in his acclaimed
book Countryman: A Summary of Belief, the dog days, Dies Caniculares, were born. And they live on to this day, as ornery
as ever, though perhaps not as mysterious.
And from this ancient tale of miscalculation about the
cause of an effect, letís turn to a modern tale of miscalculation about
the effect of a cause (or, rather, the results of a legislative effort).
That effort involved California legislators and utilities offering a choice
of suppliers to the electricity users in the Golden State.
The unintended effect has been substantially higher rates for many of
Californiaís consumers, and the very real prospect of rolling blackouts on
any day thatís unusually hot or cold. In fact, since January, there
have been six days of rolling blackouts with several other days being
near-misses, including several days in July.
In retrospect, the causes of the California electricity
crisis are easy to see. Foremost is the fact that virtually no new
electric-generating facilities were built in the state during the í90s,
even as demand for electricity was growing rapidly. It was, and is, a classic case of demand outstripping supply.
And yet, as with most every situation in life, crisis
breeds a focused urgency in seeking relief. California is now, finally,
building new electric-generating facilities. Three new generating stations
have begun operating in recent weeks, with several more under construction
and many more proposed. Is it enough
to staunch the bleeding and begin the patientís recovery? Itís way too
soon to tell. Stay tuned Ö .
Meanwhile, in our part of the country, consumers
nervously watch the evening news about California and wonder whether that
crisis, like prevailing winds, will move from west to east. Specifically,
will it appear in Virginia? While
nothing in the future can ever be absolutely guaranteed, we donít believe
the California crisis will repeat itself in Virginia.
Several electric-generating facilities have been built
in Virginia in recent years to meet surging demand, and there are several new facilities either under construction or pending
governmental review and approval, including generating stations proposed by
cooperative power supplier Old Dominion Electric Cooperative.
Some Virginia electricity users will have a choice of
their supplier (the company that provides the electricity) as early as
January 1 of next year. By January 1,
2004, all areas of Virginia will be opened up to customer choice. (The
choice will be what company supplies the actual electricity; the utility
delivering the electricity to your home or business will remain the same.)
The areas served by electric cooperatives may or may
not be of interest to other utilities and competitive suppliers. But whether or not other suppliers are interested in your area, your
cooperative is, and always has been. Your cooperative will continue to
deliver your electricity to you, and maintain the local poles and wires. And
if you wish, your cooperative will also continue to supply the actual
electricity that flows over the wires into your home or business.
Through dog day afternoons and arctic nights, your
electric cooperative intends to be there for you and your family,
providing the same reliable service and competitive rates itís offered for