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Lightning sparks electrical outages

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East Gate businesses go without power all day and Sycamore residents during the early evening Monday

By Carol A. Clark

It took more than 12 hours for Department of Public Utilities crews to locate a line fault, which left up to 20 businesses in East Gate Park in the dark Monday.

“We were able to do some of the more routine things here but we had to postpone all of our animal surgeries,” said Dr. Robert Fuselier of the Los Alamos Animal Clinic at 127-B East Gate Dr. “Also, our phone system runs on electricity so we were without service all day. We want our clients to know we weren’t ignoring them – we just didn’t have any service during the power outage.”

The DPU said that an underground line fault caused the extended outage from 3:55 a.m. until 4:48 p.m. for customers in the East Gate commercial area. A failed underground power line inside the conduit on a radial line was to blame.

The outage was not detected until later in the day, as investigative patrols and back-feed activities took place, according to the DPU.  

The failed line initially affected Pajarito Cliffs, which has a new underground system; East Gate Park, which has an old underground system and the old overhead system at San Ildelfonso.

Based on these three alternative areas, on-call electric linemen identified the old overhead system as the most probable fault area, as has been the situation several times this year, according to DPU. The overhead system segment was isolated and East Gate Park was back on at 4:20 a.m.

However, because the fault was elsewhere, this initial attempt to locate the fault and restore power instead re-energized the underground fault, temporarily bringing power down to a circuit that serves the Eastern half of Los Alamos downtown to the East Gate area.

“This is the risk associated with lack of system redundancy – tying into a fault with a good feeder will interrupt that area’s power,” said Deputy Utilities Manager Rafael De La Torre in a news release. “System redundancy is one of the aims of the longer term Electric Grid Upgrade and Renewal initiative, but requires investment and redesign over a number of years.”  

Investigation and repair work continued until the fault was localized to a bad underground line segment at a 1,400-foot radial section near the entrance to East Gate. Power to the  San Ildefonso area was restored at 6:40 a.m. and the Pajarito Cliffs at 7:40 a.m. East Gate remained without power.

Three attempts to dig, expose conduit and locate the exact fault were executed between rain flurries and at 4:48 p.m., power was restored to the East Gate area.

“The recent outage to East Gate Park is a typical challenge for finding and repairing underground power lines when they do fail,” De La Torre said,  “This topic will be worthy of discussion when the DPU surveys the community on overhead versus ‘undergrounding’ alternatives later this year.”

After the outage at East Gate, power shut down at 5:30 p.m. in the Sycamore Street area after lightning hit two overhead spans of electric line and cut the primary wire down.

By 7:30 p.m., DPU electric linemen replaced the spans and power was restored to all of Sycamore Street and the affected neighboring areas.