Should gas stations have back up generators?

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By: Dr. Aref Assaf

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Super Storm Sandy of 2102, which hit the northeast United States, cost many lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in damaged homes, infrastructure and lost production. Unique to this storm was the prolonged loss of power and the severe fuel shortage. Opinions vary on the proposed legislation to require New Jersey gas station owners to install backup generators to ensure the continued availability of fuels. Some station owners and leaders of the organization that represents their interests have been vocal in their opposition to mandating such a costly installation. They argue that it was the gas supply chain, not the lack of power supply at the stations that caused the massive gas lines following Monster Storm Sandy.

Granted the refineries in Newark and Elizabeth were dealt a major blow forcing their complete shutdown. Obviously additional measures could have been installed to ensure even a limited operation of the refineries. Governor Christie could have issued an executive order to permit delivery of out of state gasoline and other fuels. But the fact remains that hundreds of gas stations in affected areas were sitting on millions of untapped gasoline in their underground tanks. The misery we all endured could have been lessened had these sites simply switched to a backup power supply.


While such is not a perfect solution to a repeat scenario of Monster Storm Sandy, I would argue that having such alternative power sources has proven essential to emergency services and law enforcement. Like others, our gas station, Denville BP, lost power for six days. Both our store and our gas pumps ran idle for four days. But we also had close to 11000 gallons in our tanks! Then an idea was presented to the Denville police department where we informed them of our underground treasure of gas and that all we needed was a generator. We allowed the Morris County Office of Emergency Services to ‘commandeer’ our station for the exclusive benefit of county-wide emergency personnel, ambulances and police vehicles-totaling over 1000 vehicles.

Granted, our regular customers were not happy to be excluded from the opportunity to buy gas, but the overall benefit to the community far outweighed those temporary ill feelings. Even though we paid more for the delivery of gasoline as it was shipped from out of state and we also had to pay for renting and connecting the generator, we still kept our regular pre-Sandy prices.

I know that having a backup generator at our site made possible the continued critical services of hospital vehicles. In fact, we repeated the exclusive use a second time by limiting the sale of gas to the employees of St. Clare’s Hospital in Denville. Until today, doctors and nurses still come into our store to express gratitude.

I am all for the measure to entice station owners to have a permanent standby generator to ensure continued service to our patrons. Considering our station as an example, the state should, however, bear all or most of the expected costs of the equipment and its installation. The funding mechanism seems destined to forestall the pending legislation. Even good Samaritans should not be expected to shoulder the expected expense of close to $20, 0000 to install an adequate commercial grade backup generator. One option could be through tax rebates or shared responsibility between the state and the station owners. But, consumers should no cry price gouging if the owners, most of whom are small businesses, tack on a reasonable and state-approved surcharge to cover their investments.

In an imaginary perfect world, each home, place of business, apartment complex, private and public institution would be equipped with a backup power supply; or of course, we can legislate to ban all future Sandy-like storms.

Aref Assaf is president of American Arab forum. He is a frequent commentator on Arab and Muslim American affairs.

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