Rural Douglas County residents suffering ‘blinks’ of electricity loss; Evergy says it’s working to address the issue

photo by: Dylan Lysen

A substation in southwest Lawrence, shown here on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019, provides electricity to residents in southern Douglas County who have been experiencing frequent power drops. The substation is operated by Evergy.

Two summers ago, Kathleen Robson was used to losing electricity at her home for hours at a time — so much so that she planned her day around it.

“I learned to do all my cooking or whatever I thought I needed before 11 in the morning because it would be off two or three hours,” said Robson, who lives on land southeast of Lone Star Lake in rural Douglas County.

Around 1 p.m. Wednesday, Robson and at least 33 other Evergy customers in that area briefly lost power again, according to the electricity provider’s website. Robson told the Journal-World the intermittent electricity loss has been a frequent issue at her home for three years.

Even though Robson has tried to get answers about the issue — and hopefully some solutions — she said she has yet to hear a clear answer or a promise that something will be done.

“I’m really concerned, if I’m having this problem on a pretty decent day-to-day (basis), how it’s going to affect me in the winter,” she said.

But Evergy — which formed from a recent merger between Westar Energy and the parent company of Kansas City Power & Light — is aware of the frequent outages near Lone Star Lake.

Gina Penzig, a spokeswoman for Evergy, told the Journal-World Thursday that the company is looking into the issue and plans to provide some major changes soon.

“We appreciate the patience as we try to identify exactly what’s causing the outages for this area, because we know outages are very frustrating,” she said.

This year, the customers in that area have experienced many “blinks,” which are periods of electricity loss that last for minutes or seconds, Penzig said. Although “blinks” aren’t extended outages, she said the company understands they are still disruptive to customers.

Robson said a “blink” appears to be what she experienced on Wednesday, but she’s dealt with much worse over the years. She said electricity has frequently disappeared for hours.

“For these guys, that’s a freaking world record,” she said of her electricity returning on Wednesday.

Penzig said Evergy is working to provide more reliable service. Currently, she said, the company is inspecting the electrical line that provides service to that area to identify what may be causing the issue.

Evergy also plans to make improvements to the line by replacing the poles that carry it and adding communication devices that better alert the company to outages.

“They help us respond faster when faults occur because it makes it easier to locate where on the line there is an issue,” Penzig said.

Robson said she believed the increasing population in the Lawrence area might have something to do with the outages. She suspects that she and her rural neighbors are connected to an electricity substation in southwestern Lawrence, a part of the city that continues to grow rapidly.

“As the city’s grown, I think they’ve just kept plugging more stuff into this one substation,” Robson said.

Penzig confirmed that the Lone Star Lake-area residents receive their electricity from the Lawrence substation, but she didn’t have specific data on whether the Lawrence population increase is part of the issue.

However, she said residents in that area are served by one of the longest power lines on Evergy’s system, and that longer lines are at higher risk of failure.

To address that issue, Penzig said the company plans a “major improvement project” in early 2020 to break that single line into two. She said those lines will be outfitted with new poles and communications devices as well.

“We are aware that our service to customers in that area is not at an acceptable level,” Penzig said. “We fully realize power outages are very frustrating and we are working to make sure we are providing reliable service.”

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