Weekend power outage keeps thousands in the dark, Rocky Mountain Power explains why (with audio)

A large-scale power outage in Wellsville, Mendon and College Ward left more than 2,800 <a href=”https://www.rockymountainpower.net/”>Rocky Mountain Power</a> customers without electricity for nearly 24 hours over the weekend.  Rocky Mountain Power Spokesman Dave Eskelsen said two separate—but likely related—work orders were involved, the first being a problem with a fuse in the Nibley substation and the second being a failed voltage regulator.

Lights in the impacted communities originally dimmed around 7:40 p.m. on Friday, with full power being restored at 10:40 p.m. The second, longer lasting outage was reported at 11:41 p.m. Power was not restored until 4:51 p.m. on Saturday.

While Rocky Mountain Power dispatched repair crews immediately, Eskelsen said it took time to diagnose the problems.

“Once they determined that it was the voltage regulator that was bad,” he said of the second work order, “they had to make a decision, ‘okay, do we go back and repair this thing or replace it?’”

Eskelsen said crews first attempted to repair the failed regulator because a new one had to come from Salt Lake City. When repairs failed, a new regulator was ordered.

“We do apologize for the fact that the estimated restoration time kept getting pushed out,” Eskelsen said.  “Sometimes that happens when you have a more complicated repair. You think you know what the problem is and what the solution is, so you set an estimated time with the best information that you have, but it turns out that something more complicated is necessary. In this case, getting a new component up from Salt Lake City, taking the old one out and putting a new one in did consume a lot of time.“

Comments on social media mentioned multiple complications arising as a result of such a lengthy outage—ruined food, “fried” computer equipment and a chilly night’s sleep to name a few. Jamie Hunter, a resident of Wellsville, said the temperature in her home dropped below 50 degrees overnight Friday, and her four young children “froze when the heater wouldn’t come on.”

“I can’t even imagine what we would have done if this had happened in the winter,” she said. “I am just counting my blessings that the heat was the worst of our problems, as I know many others have suffered a lot more inconvenience than my family.”

Jessie Shock, who lives in Petersboro, said she and twelve of her neighbors had major flooding due to the power loss because their sump pumps were inoperable. She also said one of her neighbors who relies on oxygen had to scramble to find batteries.

“We have some great neighbors with generators and were able to things under control,” she said, “but most people around us were not that lucky.”

Shock expressed frustration with Rocky Mountain Power, saying the outages could have been averted “if Rocky Mountain Power did routine checks and kept their equipment up to par.”

“I feel like our voices are not being heard,” she said. “It seems like the power goes off quite frequently. I think the poles out here and the equipment are not safe. I feel like Rocky Mountain Power doesn’t keep them up to date, and that is why the power always goes out! I feel forgotten, except I pay my bills on time just like everyone else. My neighbors feel the same way. I have another neighbor on the Box Elder power grid who very seldom experiences power outages.”

Eskelsen said Rocky Mountain Power makes every effort to provide a reliable system and said the company does its best to mitigate power interruptions. He also said designing a fail-safe, 100 percent reliable system would be prohibitively expensive.

“We recognize how vital electricity is, and our system really is—it’s more than 98 percent reliable,” he said,  “but we recognize that sometimes, as in this case, technical problems will produce an extended outage. Given the instantaneous nature of electricity, we know that we can’t guarantee absolutely uninterruptable service. The other big problems we face are related to weather.”

Rocky Mountain Power advises customers with “critical operations” like sump pumps, life support equipment and oxygen concentrators to have an alternative source of energy or another place to go should power be interrupted. The company also advises all consumers to have an <a href=”https://www.rockymountainpower.net/ed/hws/ep.html”>emergency preparedness plan</a> that includes an emergency supply kit.

“It’s part of that emergency preparedness ethic that we’ve been talking so much about in this and our other states,” Eskelsen said. “We certainly agree with emergency preparedness officials typically at state and county levels that everybody should be prepared to be without essential services for up to 72 hours.”

While being in the dark can indeed cause great concern, many posters on Facebook were able to look on the bright side during the weekend outage, mentioning being able to enjoy time with their children, work in their yards and fold stacks of neglected laundry without the distractions of electronics.

A post from the American West Heritage Center said, “If you are bored, come out to the American West Heritage Center! We are up and running! See what no power looked like 100 years ago!” A meme from a Wellsville Facebook group said, “Happy Amish appreciation night, Wellsville!”

As neighbors stepped in to share generators and mop up flooding, Firehouse Pizzeria offered 50 percent discounts on pizza for families whose kitchens were closed without power.

“Personally, we always want to help wherever we can,” said owner and manager Kelley Chambers. “Our customers are the people who keep us in business and we really want to serve our community.”

Acknowledging the challenges of having no electricity, Eskelsen thanked Rocky Mountain Power’s customers for their patience during a complicated and longer-than-anticipated outage.

“The folks who are out there actually doing this work in the middle of the night are very anxious to get the power back on as quickly as possible,” he said. “There’s a big safety factor that we deal with, particularly when we’re working in substations, so we are working to get the power back on as quickly as possible as long as we can do it safely for employees.”

For more information about safety and preparedness during power outages, visit <a href=”http://www.rockymountainpower.net/”>www.rockymountainpower.net</a>.  

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jennifer@cvradio.com

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