By Nikki McKim
The City of Falls City is planning a sizable electrical outage on Thursday, January 9.
The outage is scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m. and could last up to eight hours or longer. The outage has left some Falls City citizens asking why such work is being done during the week and during the day.
On December 19, 2019, nearly two-thirds of the city lost power for a lengthy amount of time during the evening and into the night.
“At the power plant, we have a switchgear, and we have five circuits that run out of that switchgear and run out through various parts of town to feed everyone electrically,” said Ray Luhring, Falls City Utility Superintendent.
A squirrel had gotten into the side of the Power Plant and chewed on one of the insulated cables and through the insulation to the electrical conductor, and that’s what caused the fault on that cable.
“We have three phases coming out of each one of the switchgear cabinets. This happened to be out of what we call circuit number two. For each of those three phases, we run two cables so that six cables are feeding the three phases. One of those cables is the one that failed,” so it had to be removed, said Luhring.
In removing that cable, the amperage, or the strength of an electric current in amperes, that was capable of carrying on that circuit is cut in half. With the current mild weather conditions, the Utility department was able to hold that, but “we’re operating on the edge of emergency operating limits, amperage wise,” said Luhring. “If it got really, really cold our amperage would go up, and that cable would probably fail. The amperage on the cable would have just been too high to carry.”
Luhring and the Falls City Utility Department were hoping to make these repairs immediately after the December 19 outage looking into it the morning after, but getting materials and a contractor took more time due to the nature of the work, “this is specialty type of work that we don’t do,” said Luhring. “We really wanted to do it during the holiday break so it wouldn’t affect school, but because of the material lead time, we just couldn’t get it done.”
The last of the materials needed just came in today.
A contractor was also needed for this type of work, and the soonest one could be scheduled with a full five-person crew was for Thursday, January 9, 2020.
“Lucky thing, its that it’s been mild, so that’s why we’ve been able to get through it,” said Luhring.
Repairs are scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m., leaving several if not most Falls City businesses closed on Thursday, and there’s a good reason for that, safety.
“The reason that we’re doing it during the day is that we have to do some work outside on a platform quite a ways up in the air, so safety was a huge issue as to when we could do it ‘timewise’ and one of the reasons we couldn’t do it at night. We just can’t safely put those people on a platform at night,” said Luhring.
Inside the Power Plant where the switchgear is located, they can only get two guys in there to work at a time, and with the close proximity to other cables, they can’t afford to keep anything else energized.
“We have to take it all out to allow these individuals to work safely. So that’s the reason for the entire switchgear to go down,” said Luhring.
The Utility Department is working diligently on advanced prep work, laying out cables that are needed to pull in, so instead of doing 14 terminations on Thursday, they’ll only have to do seven, cutting down some of the outage time.
Regarding the decision to get it done as soon as possible, “These cables run in a raceway that has several cables, all five circuits come out of there, each circuit has six cables. In other words, we have thirty cables in those raceways. If that cable is operating at the emergency operating limits had failed, it could end up taking out 10-15 additional cables. If that were the case, then we don’t have the materials or labor here to repair that, because it takes special tools and equipment. Then you’re sitting in a situation where we couldn’t put anybody back on. You would possibly have three to four circuits out, and anybody fed off of those circuits would be out of power for anywhere from three to six days, to whenever we could get the material and everything in. So that’s what’s pushing the issue,” said Luhring.
We greatly sympathize with all our customers and our citizens and businesses because we know it’s a terrible inconvenience for them. Trust me, if there was any other way we could have gone about it, it’s just all about the risk of that failure and doing things safely. That’s what prompted us into doing it on Thursday and doing it during the day,” said Luhring. “We appreciate all the businesses being sympathetic and cooperative. It shows what a good community Falls City is.”