The Visitors 0282

The Visitors 0282 by mliu92
The Visitors 0282, a photo by mliu92 on Flickr.

Dear J-

So this is a letter that’s been brewing in my head for the past week or so — writing it the day they announced the plant shutdown would have been too soon, I think, and I wouldn’t have things sorted out — and writing it any later would mean that my procrastinating nature has completely taken over.

They tell me the plant is being replaced with natural gas elsewhere, which adds a burden of approximately eight million tons of carbon dioxide per year. They also tell me solar and wind can replace the plant, that we weren’t needed (that stings, by the way) and we’ll be fine without it. And there’s a part of me, like the fictional Rorschach (from Watchmen) that delights in this, believing when the hot months hit, the rolling brownouts will follow, giving us a chance to say I-told-you-so. To be honest I’m sure that as a first-world nation, our grid operators will be skillful enough to minimize the impact and any service interruptions will be few and short-lived.

I used to love the idea of working for a power company — a regulated utility! — where if people would always want to turn on their lights at night, I’d have a steady job. I was at Edison when they turned the lights out on the Mojave (coal) plant, and even met a few of the guys who came out of the desert, as they got outplaced to the only other serious source of generation at Edison — San Onofre. So even then I saw the company took care of its employees. Perfect.

And this security was rewarded with my blind trust and loyalty: hey, I’ll do my part. And I have. For the last sixteen months I’ve sacrificed evenings and hours for company events and ironing out technical issues, learning about eigenvalues and vibration (topics I avoided in school because the math looked hard, right Barbie?) because I’m a good company soldier. This is our direction? Good. How fast, how far do I need to march? And then the decision — and yeah, sure, it makes perfect economic sense, and I can’t fault it from that perspective — that we didn’t know if we’d ever get permission to restart, and with costs piling up the company pulled the plug. This despite the work that had been sunk into it, and the answers we were getting.

I’m reminded of another pop culture reference: Braveheart, which has approximately as much historical accuracy as, oh, Austin Powers. Still, though, there was a time in college when I couldn’t start a semester without watching Braveheart to get pumped up for it. (Hmm … where is my copy of the disc?). If you remember a bit of the plot, after some innovative thinking to make foot troops competitive with heavy horse through the use of pikes/lances, Wallace presses on to success after success until he’s betrayed by the nobles at Falkirk, who’ve been promised land by the English in return for not riding to support Wallace.

I feel like we had the rug yanked out from under us; we had a working understanding and a physical model that explained the unusual wear, a sound technical basis and we were gutted by politics and economics. In Braveheart at this point Wallace turns into Batman, avenging the betrayal and ultimately winning Scotland’s freedom for a time, but the analogy falls apart here. I’m not about to start fighting a battle I can’t possibly win, legally or financially. But it’s felt like a battle for the last sixteen months; I’d wake up every morning ready to head into work — the hour to hour and a half it took to get there, knowing that we had the station’s future in our hands, and with it, the jobs of our friends and colleagues. It’s an awesome responsibility and a huge motivation to boot. Who doesn’t want to play the hero?

And then this month — so far I’ve been keeping track of how many months old Calcifer is via flickr sets for each successive month — this month I wrote “Calcifer 32m” for the latest, June 2013 set. Thirty-two months. I’ve worked on this project for half his life? This is what I’ve sacrificed in return for … oh. Everything, I guess. We did our best, we worked like mules and pulled together and in the end they still pulled the plug on us. That’s what burns. I gave up on half my son’s life so far — which he’ll likely forgive me for, I’m sure — and now I can’t say it was worth it.

Approximately three-quarters of the way through Final Fantasy VI, your team of characters tries to save the world and fails. Fails to control the madman. Fails to prevent the destruction and suffering. I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen now that the plant is shuttering and approximately a thousand people are being laid off, but we are all in the dumps. It does make me want to not care, and that would be a fundamental change in who I am, to not give my best at my work. I’ll ride it out. And when I go I’m not looking back with regrets.

Mike

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