By the end of this week, the City of Powell’s electrical substation should be fully repaired from a June explosion.
Some critical work was completed on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, but one more power outage is planned from 4-6 a.m. this Thursday, Aug. 22.
“This should be the final one,” City Administrator Zack Thorington said Monday, adding that, “This should get us back to 100 percent.”
The upcoming outage is to allow crews to “button up” all of the work from the prior two weeks, including making some final connections, Thorington said.
While residents may be tiring of the outages, he said the shut off and repairs are necessary.
“We’re ready for all this to be over, too,” Thorington said.
The City of Powell lost power early Sunday morning, but that had nothing to do with the city’s substation; rather, it came because the Western Area Power Administration had to shut off electricity to the area so work could be performed on a Garland Light & Power substation, Thorington said; similarly, a Monday morning power bump in the downtown area was the result of a squirrel tripping a circuit.
“When it rains, it pours,” Thorington said.
The trouble with the city’s Vining Substation on North Ingalls Street began with a roughly 5 a.m. power outage on June 29. When city crews attempted to restore power, a circuit breaker exploded. Power was turned back on later in the day, but the damage left the substation crippled.
Forensic engineers brought in by the city’s insurer concluded that the explosion was the result of a ground fault in an underground cable. Replacing that cable meant venturing into vaults beneath the Vining Substation, which required shutting off the power to protect the workers.
There’s no particularly convenient time to turn off the power to an entire city, but Powell leaders scheduled the work to run from midnight to 4 a.m. last week. That’s when most people are sleeping and when temperatures are cooler — and it was before the arrival of Northwest College students on campus this week.
Thorington said city leaders considered a lot of factors with the timing, but “the main motivation was, ‘Let’s get it done. We’re running crippled too long.’”
City officials tried to prepare customers for the outages. They made notifications by phone calls, emails, text messages, newspaper ads and Facebook posts, warning residents to be prepared to be without power from midnight to 4 a.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and possibly Friday.
“We didn’t know what we were going to run into,” Thorington said. If the faulty underground cable had melted, he said it could have been difficult to remove.
One of the bigger challenges posed by the prospect of extended power outages was for Powell residents who rely on supplemental, nighttime oxygen. Those patients typically use electric-powered oxygen condensers, but with the power out, bottles of oxygen were needed.
To make sure its dozens of Powell customers were covered for the potential of going a combined 12 hours without power, home oxygen supplier Lincare, of Cody, gathered up literally hundreds of tanks from as far off as Sheridan and Riverton; the company also contacted every customer, making sure they knew about the outage and asking them to not use more oxygen than needed. Able-bodied customers were asked to pick up tanks in the Blair’s parking lot.
The inconvenience could have been an opportunity for folks to complain or get upset, but as things turned out, “it was amazing to watch how sweet people were, how cooperative they were,” said Todd Bray, Lincare’s center manager in Cody. He said people pulled together to help each other out.
“It was really a warm, fuzzy moment,” Bray said.
Meanwhile, crews were able to pull and replace the substation’s cable in only two early mornings — and on the second day, they only had to shut off power to half the city.
“It went well,” Thorington said. “It actually wasn’t as bad as we thought.”
All of the work was expected to cost around $210,000, with the city’s insurer covering the expense.