Last updateFri, 07 Dec 2018 11am

Rainy season power failures: Only 87 volts? Unplug that fridge!

Three short but blustery storms, each followed by 12- to 16-hour apagones (blackouts): No need to check the calendar, without a doubt it’s summertime in rural Jalisco!

Let’s face it. Electricity just isn’t the same in Mexico. In fact, it’s not even called electricity here, but luz, light.

Officially, Mexican luz is supposed to be 127 volts, a rather odd number which a cynic might say was chosen at some point in the past to make sure all electrical appliances smuggled into Mexico from the United States (made for 110 volts) would quickly burn out.

And so they do out here in the hills west of Guadalajara. When I first arrived in Pinar de la Venta, the voltage was 135 instead of 127, so high that even a properly made Mexican light bulb would last not even a week at Rancho Pint. For readers who might be facing the same problem, the solution I found was to replace all light switches with dimmers. This protects the filaments of incandescent bulbs from that powerful initial jolt which eventually snaps them. Thanks to dimmers, I now have to change light bulbs only once every five or ten years.

pg8aProtecting computers, TVs and DVD players, however, is another story: you need a battery backup, voltage regulator and surge protector to be safe, and even then you’ve got to unplug the whole system every time you hear the rumble of a trueno or see the flash of a relampago.


Unfortunately, none of the above gizmos will protect you from anything if they are not connected to a good tierra física, an earth ground.

“Well, that’s no problem,” I said many years ago, pounding a copper pole into the ground … until I discovered that the “ground” beneath my house was neither ground nor earth, but jal, that combination of volcanic ash and stone that gives Jalisco its name and that doesn’t conduct electricity. Yes, this was a new luz-related problem which I finally solved by burying half a ton of metallic junk, all soldered together.

Really, the things we must go through to reap the benefits of living in a woods with a great climate, the chirping of birds and crickets and the company of gente amable who will happily take the time to engage you in a friendly chat ... about the weather, of course!

My most recent luz problem is a new one. In the past, when the electricity went off it really went off, causing you no harm except for losing everything you had stored in your refrigerator. This rainy season, however, storm after storm has left us with 87 volts, just enough to keep the light bulbs almost bright and to fool the neighbors into not calling 071 to report a blackout. Ah, what a clever truco the CFE (electric utility) has come up with. We have 87 volts of luz to enjoy, so why should they hurry out to restore full power?

Perhaps this is why it is recently taking the CFE more than 12 hours to come to our rescue, even though they never fail to remind us that if we have a problem, they will send someone to fix it “inside of four hours.”

Well, don’t tell anyone, but your refrigerator – and anything else with a motor in it – was not designed to run on 87 volts and needs to be unplugged the moment the brownout hits you.

And now, without further ado, I will send this column off to the Reporter because right now Rancho Pint has luz.

In ten minutes, quién sabe?

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