On Outages: SDCEA Improves Communication to Members

By Paul A. Erickson, Chief Executive Officer

Headshot of Paul A. Erickson Chief Executive Officer
Paul A. Erickson, Chief Executive Officer

Many people remember the widespread electric outage on Christmas Day 2016. On that day, a severe wind storm slammed our region. Not only did it damage numerous Sangre de Cristo Electric Association distribution lines, it impacted electric trans- mission and distribution lines throughout Colorado and other western states.

Transmission lines are high-voltage electricity-carrying lines used to deliver power throughout the country as an essential component of the national power grid. When a transmission line is damaged, it affects power delivery to an extensive area. If a transmission line is down, it cannot supply power to regional substations.

Substations convert high-voltage power to lower voltages which are sent out on distribution lines such as those built and maintained by SDCEA to reach consumers at their home or business.

In the case of the Christmas Day 2016 outage, wind destroyed several of SDCEA’s lines. Crews worked relentlessly in extreme weather conditions to repair those lines. The storm also damaged transmission lines from Black Hills Energy, Xcel and the Western Area Power Administration, all of which supply power to our substations. If a transmission line is down, it must be repaired by the company that owns that transmission line before SDCEA can restore power to consumers through the distribution lines we own, build and maintain.

Unfortunately, that storm was so widespread, calls from thousands of people from around the western United States overwhelmed our 24-hour dispatch system, which is based off-site so it is not affected by local storms, and is shared with other electric providers. Worse, SDCEA’s Buena Vista office phone lines also went down, as did access to the internet. This left the impression with some of our consumers that we were not working to restore power that day. That’s understandable, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Our staff was as frustrated and impacted by this event as our consumers were.

It is always our goal to better serve you. We learned some valuable lessons that day and made it a top priority to make sure our communications to consumers would not be hindered in that way again. SDCEA reviewed and took immediate steps to strengthen its dispatch redundancy to respond to this unprecedented occurrence. In case we lose telephone or internet communications again, we now have a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a completely revamped website that allow us to post notices about outages with or without online service. Please check in and follow these accounts for up-to-date information on outages.

Could an unprecedented weather event happen again? Yes. We now have several communications options that we did not have previously. We are committed to continually working to review and improve these systems going forward.

Never assume that we know about an outage. We would much rather you call us than think that we already know about an outage. If you have an outage, call our dispatch 24/7, 365 days a year at 1-844-395-2412 or 719-395-2412 to report that outage. We understand that being without power is inconvenient and frustrating. One call is all that you need to make. SDCEA will then work around the clock, if necessary, to restore your service as quickly as possible. We encourage you to follow our Facebook and Twitter posts, as well as check our website for updates during outages.

When you call, you may get a live person who will verify your information and send it on to our crews. Or, you may get a message that we are aware of the outage, as the call center recognizes the phone number associated with the account that is currently experiencing an outage.

That’s why it’s important for you to keep your phone number current with SDCEA. We may also need to contact you to follow up on whether power has been restored. Sometimes we use your phone number to notify you of upcoming maintenance or planned outages, too. We do not call you to sell you stuff and we never sell your information to other parties.

And a note on preparedness. Have emergency supplies to sustain your household on-hand and easy to access while the power is out, such as battery-operated lanterns and non-perishable food and water. A complete list of emergency items to keep on hand may be found on our website, myelectric.coop under the Safety tab.

Following are some commonly-asked questions and some answers to those questions about outages.

How long does it take to restore power following an outage?

Removing a branch from a line can be relatively quick — it’s just a matter of finding it. Replacing a downed line, a broken power pole or digging up buried cable to find and repair a fault can be a much longer process. Outages can last from minutes to hours, even days, depending on the severity of a storm or other event.

Your location also affects the time it takes to get power restored. If you live in a remote area, it might take SDCEA crews an hour or more just to arrive on location (especially if they need to leave their home in the middle of the night). Then, they need to inspect equipment, determine the cause, and develop a plan to restore power safely.

Sometimes members call within a few minutes of their power going out wondering when it will be back on. In reality, our crews haven’t had a chance to arrive on scene yet, or determine what’s causing the problem.

One thing that is consistent, however, is that Sangre de Cristo crews, often braving dangerous conditions will do everything they can to restore power as quickly and safely as possible. It’s a critically important, dangerous job that SDCEA crews take very seriously.

Why does my power sometimes blink?

A “blink” (a brief momentary interruption in service) is a normal part of a power delivery system that serves an important purpose. Two examples: Heavy snow dropping from trees may make contact with our lines. Strong winds can cause trees to make contact with wires. When either of those situations happen, your lights may dim or you might lose power for a few seconds as the system operates to identify and clear the problem. Without this protective equipment, members could experience a prolonged outage instead of just a blink.

How is power restoration prioritized?

SDCEA energizes just shy of 13,000 homes and businesses along more than 1,700 miles of power lines. That’s a lot of ground to cover.

The main goal in any outage is to restore power safely to the greatest number of members in the shortest time possible. Restoration priority is to first make sure transmission lines are functioning to supply power to substations (which then distribute power to thousands of consumers), so these lines would receive first priority if affected by an outage. Next, crews would make any needed repairs at substations, followed by repairing transformers and distribution lines — the last steps in the system that bring power to your home.

I’m out, but my neighbor isn’t. Why?

Homes in a neighborhood may be fed by different distribution lines, different service lines or different transformers. It could be that the cause of the outage might be originating in the home and be unrelated to SDCEA’s system. Even so, we’d prefer that you call us to let us know your power is out so we can identify the issue and get your power back on as soon as is possible.