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Los Alamos residents are no strangers to power outages and it’s common knowledge that some areas are worse than others.
As a result of repeated phone calls regarding the outages, Utilities Manager John Arrowsmith, and Department of Public Utilities Engineer Rafael De la Torre, were in council chambers on Tuesday night to present a report to councilors on the reliability of the electric distribution system.
According to the report, De La Torre is working on modeling each of the Department of Public Utilities’ seven circuits to determine the proper settings on the county’s over-current protection devices.
Each circuit takes approximately 40 hours of work to model. Once the circuit is modeled, their on-call electrical engineering firm verifies the calculations.
Once confirmed, the computations are used to reprogram their protective devices. When the process is completed, the system should be more stable.
As a follow-up on the process, staff will add new over-current protection devices to lateral lines to further isolate faults. The installations are expected to take approximately six months.
“Rafael has been doing high-level modeling of the system from the mesas to the power source,” Arrowsmith said. “He’s been working on problems that cause faults. He has suggested solutions and ordered insulation so squirrels can frolic and not get electrocuted if bare wires are close together,” he said.
Both Arrowsmith and De La Torre cited squirrels as a cause of power outages.
De La Torre told council he has fixed several 1,000-type outages, meaning that those types of outages could affect thousands of customers. However, he said that work still needs to be done to fix those outages that can affect 10-50 customers.
Councilor Michael Wheeler commended Arrowsmith and De La Torre for their work and said it appears that improvement in reducing the number of outages can be expected.
“I’d like to have project scope plans for how much money will be needed to get us to the next level,” he said.
Councilor Nona Bowman said she lives on Barranca Mesa and experiences a lot of power outages. She asked how many hours the outages add up to and whether it’s a per month or per year calculation.
Arrowsmith told her that her area typically experiences 1.5 to 5.2 hours of outages per year.
“It seems like a lot more,” she said.
She then asked De La Torre when residents can expect to see a decrease in outages.
“The big issue is that the reclosures weren’t programmed properly. We programmed them last week with the correct settings,” De La Torre said.
He also said that heavy insulation was put on the poles because squirrels kept getting on the poles.
“Will it be five to six months?” Bowman pressed.
De La Torre said he hopes to get the outages reduced so that if they do occur, they will only affect about 10 people. He also said that they have been tracking every outage that occurs.
In an effort to keep the public informed in relation to the power outages, Chairman Jim Hall recommended that Arrowsmith and De La Torre post regular updates on the DPU website.
He suggested that they report every outage, how many occurred, where they occurred and how many customers were affected.
“A lot more transparency would be to everyone’s benefit,” Hall said.
Councilor Frances Berting also suggested that a small blurb also be included in monthly utility bills from time to time.