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A surge in self-made electricity

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Patrick Kline usually gets four or five inquiries a week about emergency generators. By last Monday, just days after the Northeast's huge blackout, the Pompton Plains, N.J., dealer had nearly 50. Backup power has become a front-burner issue in many consumers' minds.

And sales are heating up.

Even before last week's blackout, spending on units capable of providing all home power was surging. David Pettigrove, a senior analyst at Bainbridge Inc., in San Diego, was projecting spending on residential backup generators would climb to between $200 million and $250 million nationwide in 2003 - up 15 to 20 percent from last year, when spending grew 30 percent from 2001, thanks in large part to California's blackouts and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Now, manufacturers are gearing up to meet even more demand.

Should you join the frenzy and get backup power for your own home? The key, dealers and industry spokesmen say, is to determine your needs and the costs involved now - certainly before the next crisis.

Once the power goes out, buyers "have a four-hour window to buy a generator before they're gone," says Honda Power Equipment spokesman Sage Marie.

One popular option is a portable backup generator. Hardware stores sell these at prices that typically start at around $400. These gasoline-powered units can generate enough electricity to keep the refrigerator going while operating a computer and microwave.

But powering your entire house during an emergency involves more planning - and some real expense.

Costs for these systems range from $2,000 for a portable unit that can be plugged into a home's wiring to $12,000 for a perma- nently installed power plant that will start up automatically after the wires to the house stop delivering electricity, Mr. Pettigrove notes.

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