It's been almost a week since severe winter weather hit a large portion of the United States, knocking out power for millions of residents in Texas and other states. Some have now been without power for days. Pipes are breaking from freezing homes and people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning while attempting to warm their frigid houses with unsafe heat sources like BBQ grills and camp stoves.

We like to believe Montana is immune from these types of power outages and rolling blackouts and it's true that the majority of our power outages are usually highly localized, due to storms knocking down power lines. Most of these power outages are quickly resolved, however, Ryan Hall with Montana Electric Cooperative's Association told News Talk 95.5 that Montana could experience more rolling blackouts in the future as increasing energy demands and an aging grid are potential for disaster.

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No grid is immune from failure and if watching the news reports makes you nervous about the possibility of losing power for long durations, perhaps you've considered purchasing a backup generator for your home. Many of us are familiar with smaller generators often found in RVs or on job sites, similar to something like this:

Credit: Honda
Credit: Honda

These are great for their intended purpose but are not ideal for powering your home. We spoke with Tim Wittman, owner of Billings-based TW Enterprises. His company has provided backup generators for industrial and residential customers in our region for over 30 years. Wittman said if you're planning on buying a backup generator for your home, be prepared to wait. Many brands of generators have been on back-order for months. The supply shortage began with the California wildfires, followed by an intense hurricane season, rioting in many cities, and then COVID-19.

Tim told us that Generac, one of the leading generator manufacturers in the US, is adding a second factory on the east coast, but until then most orders placed now for residential-sized generators won't be available for installation for up to six months. The cost for a back-up generator system for your home can vary depending on your HVAC system, gas or electric range, water heaters, wells and other high-load appliances.

Power lines weighed down by ice cause damage along a country road.
Getty Stock/ThinkStock


A rough quote for my small-to-average sized house came in at a little over $5,000. This includes a 14kw, natural gas-powered generator, 200 amp automatic transfer switch (which allows the generator to kick on automatically 10 seconds after the power goes out), and a concrete pad for the generator to sit on. There are additional costs for an electrician and plumber to hook up the wiring and gas supply line.

This may seem expensive for some homeowners, but these systems can last for decades with appropriate maintenance and the peace of mind is priceless. Think about it... a freezer full of ruined beef, no heat for a week, frozen burst pipes (and associated water damage) hotel rooms for your family for a week or more while you wait for repairs.... all of that could add up to $5,000 pretty quickly.

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