Archive for Monday, May 16, 2011

Westar cites aging lines as cause for Sunday’s power outages downtown

May 16, 2011


About 5,000 customers lost power around 6 a.m. Sunday morning. Westar crews restored power to most customers around 7:45 a.m. Crews at the power station near Sixth and Kentucky streets were working to repair the issue around 8 a.m. Sunday.

About 5,000 customers lost power around 6 a.m. Sunday morning. Westar crews restored power to most customers around 7:45 a.m. Crews at the power station near Sixth and Kentucky streets were working to repair the issue around 8 a.m. Sunday.

No cinnamon rolls. No croissants. No coffee.

And Chuck Magerl, proprietor of WheatFields Bakery, considers himself lucky that the power went off when it did — warming his refrigerators, cooling his ovens and otherwise fouling batches upon batches of baked goods this past Sunday morning.

Disaster averted, at least for now.

“We’re grateful that it happened this Sunday and hopeful that it won’t happen next Sunday,” Magerl said, of the blackout that lasted from 6 a.m. to about 8:15 a.m. “The idea of thousands of people in here for (Kansas University) graduation in the morning, and trying to figure out where to go, and what to do, and where to eat ... ”

A chuckle finished the thought, but the prospect isn’t funny. The upcoming KU Commencement is big business for retailers, for hoteliers, for restaurateurs and everyone else along and astride Massachusetts Street, not to mention seemingly everywhere else in town.

And now that the central business district has endured four power outages in a little more than a year, concerns are mounting that plugging in and turning on might not always produce the desired result.

Officials at Westar Energy say Sunday’s outage occurred because a splice failed in underground lines that run through the same manhole. The failure produced a “violent discharge of energy,” enough to damage other lines in the manhole and knock out power to a wider area: almost 5,000 customers at the outage’s peak, many in the downtown area, said Leonard Allen, a Westar spokesman.

The damaged lines are associated with the Westar substation at Sixth and Tennessee streets, the same place where similar lines led to a similar problem back on Dec. 6. That outage was said to have knocked off about 8,000 customers — including the Douglas County Courthouse, leading a judge to declare a mistrial in a DUI case.

Both outages appear to have been caused by failures in aging power lines, Allen said.

“They both had something to do with line that was laid in the 1970s,” Allen said. “They are looking at getting with our reliability and substation people, and looking at the possibility of replacing more sections of that line to prevent further outages. …

“It’s probably just that the line wore out. … They will look for lines that are similar and look at replacing those.”

While no timeline for such upgrades has been set, the fact that at least two outages can be traced to a similar cause has appeared to flip the switch on consideration of repairs and replacements.

“They’ll have to look at it and see what needs to be done,” Allen said. “Obviously, it’s come to the forefront of their attention.”

Magerl’s keeping his fingers crossed that the old lines — installed at least a decade before he opened Free State Brewery in 1989 at 636 Mass., and well before opening WheatFields later at Ninth and Vermont streets — will hold up for another week and beyond.

“It would certainly benefit a lot of businesses and, beyond that, individuals … to minimize those disruptions,” Magerl said.


Alceste 7 years ago

A planned outage by Westar to "document" the need for yet another rate hike to "replace" these "aging lines"....which WESTAR should have been doing as an aspect of planning. Wait and see......

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

We all know these companies can only operate if they have highly paid Supermen in charge. Otherwise, there'd be random power outages..........., er, I'm sure there must be some reason why the CEO of Westar needs compensation of about $2,500 per hour (surely only a little more than the average lineman makes in a week.) I'm sure he's out there leading the charge any time the power goes out, rain, ice or snow.

true_patriot 7 years ago

This is typical of privatized utilities - we've seen it over and over. The pattern plays out like this: At some point a low profit or just breaking even "lazy" public utility that provides reliable power to a city or region is privatized. The corporation then cuts the amount that had typically been spent for preventive maintenance and proactive upgrades and reports the difference as increased profits. "Look how much better the private sector can run this compared to when it was a public utility". Until an event or series of events occur that the system is no longer reliable or modern enough to handle.

While our power in this region hasn't been public in a long time, it makes me wonder if the same dynamics are at play. Why, despite rate hike after rate hike, and especially after this same subsection was knocked offline recently, are we subject to the whim of aging outdated lines and splices in manholes?

Let me guess - they'll hold ratepayers hostage again as the spineless Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) rubberstamps their requests: "We didn't spend the $$ on upgrades that our management would normally dictate we do in the best interests of serving the good people of eastern Kansas, but if you'll give us yet another rate hike as your real wages decline, we'll think about maybe upgrading a few things around here so your businesses and your town don't have to lose money and look bad every time the infrastructure we refuse to properly maintain unexpectedly blows chunks or falls over like a house of cards when a bird flies into it."

kinder_world 7 years ago

Westar is solely in business to make money for its investors and managment.
Aging lines - you pay, acts of God (storms, winds, etc) - you pay, being a good neighbor and sending help to other areas and states - you pay, thinking about purchasing electricty in future - you pay, being environmental conservative and saving electricty - you pay, rewarding their investors at a rate of 13% return (you and I make maybe 3% return on our investments) - you pay, And this is added on top of the price you pay for using electricty. Westar being responsible for anything at all that costs the company money - wrong - you pay.

tolawdjk 7 years ago

In positive news, like the Deerfield neighborhood, Wheatfields meter will now allow Chuck to monitor his usage.

The meter will either read "on" and he will be able to operate his buisiness or the meter will be "off" and he will be able to haul his profits out to the dumpster.

Does anyone know if a business could attempt to reclaim losses occurred because of failed maintenance on another businesses part? I know in several consent decrees I've read, that the first time a failure occurs, it can be chalked up to malfunction. However, if it occurs a second time, its operator fault.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

Yes, a lot of people were inconvenienced by the power outage.

As for me, I'm content to be very happy that no one was hurt.

letsgiterdone 7 years ago

And what kaos it caused at work the next day.

gphawk89 7 years ago

How exactly does a line "wear out"? When I think of something wearing out, it has moving parts. Power lines don't move, or at least shouldn't - especially underground ones.

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