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Price to reassess customer communications after power outage

While overhead powerlines often obscure the view, they are easier to analyze for problems when it comes to power outages.

By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

A power outage last week in the Cedar Hills area gave price city officials a pause as they tried to figure out how to improve communications with customers across the city when things don't quite go right.

"Monday we are having an incident review to see what we can do to improve things," said Price City Customer Service Manager Bret Cammans last Thursday. "We want to see what went wrong and what went right."

The outage in the area east of Cedar Hills Drive below 800 North caused about 50 homes to lose power for about 24 hours and half of those for another 22 hours after that when it was discovered the first break in the underground feeder line wasn't the only one.

The underground lines in that part of the city are nearing 40 years old and it seems that problems are occurring more and more often.

"It's nice to look out of your house and not see overhead power lines," said Cammens. "But on the other hand when they break you just can't drive down the street and see where they have come apart."

The cause of the breaks was suspected to be a "bump" in the power that occurred over the weekend of June 9. The surge as the power came back on may have affected weak areas of the lines, areas that were just ready to go down with any extra stress that may have been put on them.

Even though the city owns their own power system, it contracts with Rocky Mountain Power to do repairs. When customers first called Rocky Mountain to report outages some confusion reigned because customer service representatives for the company did not show those calling as customers because they were on the city owned system. Still once that was resolved Rocky Mountain crews showed up and worked to find what was originally thought to be only one break. They worked overnight into Tuesday and finally found a break and repaired it.

But when the power lines were energized, 20-25 homes were still without power.

"Those crews had been out on the job for 34 hours straight and more equipment was also neeeded to track down the second break," said Cammans. "So they went home for the night to rest up and wait for the equipment to show up."

That night Camman's, along with some other city employees, circulated around the neighborhood where the power was off and talked with residents.

"Most were very understanding, although they were frustrated," he stated. "I can't blame them for that. It was frustrating."

A few hours after starting operations again on Tuesday they found the second break and repaired it. That brought all the power back on.

Camman's said that when he retired for the night on Monday he thought that everything was in the process of being repaired.

"Had I known the problem we would have been out talking to the affected residents sooner," he stated.

Camman's said while they had had problems with the underground systems in various areas before, this was the longest lasting incident he had seen in his years working for the city.

"We are dealing with an aging electrical infrastructure on these underground systems," he stated. "We really need to expand our plans for overhauling them."

He also said that settling has been one of the big problems with the systems that were installed many years ago and some of that has happened on customers property and their house lines, not just with the feeder lines.

Exactly how or when an overhaul would be done is still a decision that hasn't been made, but Cammans said that it is in the works.

When he came to work at Price City seven years ago he said the biggest problem the town had with the electrical system was that trees were causing power failures on overhead lines constantly. An aggressive tree trimming program has almost eliminated those problems.

There are also some other priorities that need to be taken care of such as replacing some sub-station infrasture systems downtown. But the drawings are on the table for replacing underground systems too.

"Right now we are categorizing and prioritizing which systems need replacement first," he said. "It will take some time and it will be expensive."

He said that the underground systems will be replaced with new underground systems, but what kind will be installed and how they will be installed is still up in the air.

"Right now our emphasis needs to be on how we communicate with customers better in situations such as these," he stated. "That will be addressed next week."




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