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Ask Willie

Dear Willie:
After a power outage, my neighbor always seems to get his lights back on before me. Why?
--Michael A.

Dear Michael:

You’ve made the logical assumption that your co-op’s linemen would restore power to each house along a road or in a neighborhood before moving on to another. But the complexity of the electrical system often means one person’s power is restored before their neighbor’s. Hopefully I can give you a basic understanding of how power is restored during an outage.

To make it a little simpler let’s compare the electric system to the roads you and your neighbor take to your home. Let’s say you take an Interstate, then a state highway, then a county road, then private drive. But your neighbor, although a stone throw away, has to take a different county road because they live just across the creek from you. If there is a wreck on the Interstate neither one of you can get home until it is cleared. That’s like fixing a transmission line first. If the state highway you both use has a tree fall across it that is like a main feeder line out of a substation being damaged. If the creek rises and floods the county road that you use that is like a smaller tap line coming off the main feeder from the substation. You can’t get home, but your neighbor can because he is served by a different county road.
Electricity gets to your home using these different “roads” and the route to your home may be different than the route to your neighbor’s home. That is why sometimes you may have power and they don’t during an outage. In the most extreme case you may be served by a different substation than your neighbor.

The Power Restoration Process
Your co-op’s linemen will focus first on restoring power to lines that provide power to the greatest number of members in the shortest time possible. They may need to start with the transmission lines that provide power from the co-op’s power source to its substations. If the substations aren’t receiving any power, then fixing lines near members’ homes won’t do any good because they won’t be transmitting power.

Once all the co-op’s substations are receiving power, linemen can work on making sure that the substations are still in proper working order. If so, then they move on to checking the distribution power lines that run from the substations to members’ homes or subdivisions. These are the lines you see along the road.

The reason for an outage at a members’ home could be because of a tree limb located hundreds of miles away. Linemen have to find all the reasons along the line.

Now for the tricky part. Co-op’s have one, two and three-phase lines. Sometimes it is possible to energize one or two phases while the other remains out of power. It may appear that you and your neighbor are served by the same line, when in fact you’re not. It’s also possible that there is a damaged transformer between you and your neighbor that is causing your outage. Or perhaps the line leading directly from the road to your home has a fault, or your meter was damaged.

The bottom line is that during any outage, especially a widespread one, there just aren’t enough crews to restore power to members all at the same time. Linemen could be dispatched to different areas of the county to try and restore the most members in the least amount of time, meaning they may be sent away from your area before they were able to work on your individual outage, in favor of another area where their work could energize several hundred homes. Or they may have to work on additional lines to restore power to your home even though it is located near homes already restored.

Please remember to always call the co-op to report your outage. It is possible that they may not know you are without power, especially if they have restored power to your line and the fault is on your service line from the transformer to your meter.

 

 

Have a question for Willie Wiredhand? Email aiecinfo@aiec.coop.

© 2008 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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