Powell hit by Monday afternoon power outages


City of Powell residents and businesses lost power Monday afternoon after something put too much load on the electrical system.

The outage hit the city around 3:15 p.m. and, in the downtown area, the power generally stayed out until about 5:50 p.m. Other parts of town had power restored earlier.

Powell City Administrator Zack Thorington said Monday evening that, while crews are still looking for the exact cause of the trouble, they found a fix that should keep the power on for the forseeable future.

“I’ll cross my fingers and rub Buddha’s belly, too,” Thorington quipped.

His initial suspicion was that Monday’s blistering temperatures created the problems, with a surge in air conditioning use placing too much load on the system. But hours later, it appeared the issues may have actually been tied back to a ground fault in either the downtown circuit or the one that serves the south side of town.

“Something is putting load on the neutral,” Thorington said. The theory, he said, is that something like a faulty fuse high up on a power pole or a loose line caused the trouble.

Whatever the problem, it put too much load on a circuit and tripped a protective device that then cut off power to the entire city. Powell crews, who were assisted by personnel from the Western Area Power Administration, eventually decided to raise the limit on the device as a temporary fix.

If the problem can be traced back to some kind of small fault, that’s encouraging news, Thorington said, because it means the city’s system wasn’t overwhelmed by AC use. That could have been a continuing problem, with temperatures expected to hit triple digits on Tuesday. Still, the new theory brought a new challenge: Trying to find a “phantom something” that could be a tree branch in the wrong spot.

The City of Powell is in the process of reconstructing its substation, and the revamped facility will be able to handle double the load. However, it’s unclear whether the new system would have prevented Monday’s outages, since the cause remained something of a mystery.

Thorington said Powell is large enough — and there are so many things that can cause power problems — that it can be difficult to pin down a definitive answer immediately. But he expressed confidence that the city’s personnel will figure it out.

“That’s going to be a needle in a haystack,” Thorington said, “but I think they’ll find it.”

While Monday was a hot, difficult day for the city crews, Thorington said that, “everybody’s busting their butts.”