Dog Day Afternoons
by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

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 three generations.


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