UTAH - Power Update...A Few Problems

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THE HEAT IS ON: Electricity Demand at Peak

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

Publication date: 2000-08-01

On summer days when temperatures outside soar then hover in the triple-digit range, Terry Lee's thoughts are often haunted by the spectre of blinking green lights.

For Lee, a foreman at Utah Power's Salt Lake City dispatch center, a sudden cascade of flashing green lights on the huge wall panels that dominate the control room means a bad power outage is occurring.

"Those of us who have seen big outages happen still have bad dreams about them," Lee said.

Power outages and brownouts are a lot more likely to occur during the summer months as homeowners and businesses demand more electricity from Utah Power and the dozens of municipal electrical utilities that serve the state.

Residential air conditioning is the culprit, with demand for electricity peaking during the typical weekday between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Monday afternoon, Lee looked at the control panel with its hundreds of red, amber and green lights, each representing a transformer, switch or substation on Utah Power's electrical grid system.

"Right now we are OK," he said. "But we did have some problems earlier in the day."

Minor outages occurred in Ogden and southwest Salt Lake County, he said.

Most electrical systems are much like the average Utahn. They cannot take the heat all that well.

Wires and transformers operate a lot more efficiently when it's 90 degrees outside than when it's 100 degrees, said Dave Eskelsen, spokesman for Utah Power.

And when demand for electricity rises and transmission efficiency drops, it can cause problems. Circuit breakers in substations can suddenly kick off. Fuses blow and transformers overheat.

It can be a nightmare for those whose job it is to keep electricity flowing.

With temperatures throughout most of Utah topping 100 degrees Monday, Utah Power asked its customers to consider conserving electricity by raising their thermostats, opening windows during the evening and turning off unneeded lights.

"A little conservation on the part of a lot of people can make a big difference," Eskelsen said.

And it may save Utahns a lot more than a few cents a day on their monthly electricity bills.

Electrical appliances that are left on during brownouts, which occur when the voltage on the power system abruptly drops, can overheat. Motors can be damaged when electricity starts flowing again.

It is always a good idea to shut off electrical appliances during a brownout, said John Blundell, owner of Global Investigations, a firm that investigates the causes of fires. "The trouble is that oftentimes people are not at home when power system problems occur."

Utah Power usually tries to cut power to areas where a brownout is about to occur since a complete power outage will be a lot less damaging, Eskelsen said.


-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), August 01, 2000

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