Powering through the electric outage

The start of 2014 is one we’ll remember for a long time with the blizzard and extremely cold weather. These unusual conditions have been taxing on roads, businesses, homes and our electricity, as we all experienced with the citywide power outage this past Monday night. In fact, it’s these temperatures that led to the outage and made repair efforts more challenging.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened:

  • There was a trip fault in the city’s transformer on South Grandstaff Drive, one of two major substations in the city. In normal weather, it re-closes and adjusts on its own. However, it was unable to do that on Monday with temperatures as low as -13 degrees.
  • The fault triggered the Indiana Michigan Power (I&M) system to shut off all power to the city. (Auburn’s utility connects to its electricity source via I&M.)
  • Auburn Electric crews found the problem and had Auburn’s system ready to re-energize and receive power a couple hours later.
  • At that point, extreme cold once again hampered efforts with I&M experiencing a breaker problem due to the cold temperatures.
  • Power was restored at 12:45 a.m., with crews reconnecting the city in stages over a 15-minute span in order to avoid causing any surges or further problems.

It was an unforeseeable situation—both for Auburn Electric and I&M—that would have never happened in normal winter conditions. Below zero temperatures can be taxing and prevent things from working like they normally do. However, severe, prolonged temperatures put even more pressure on systems, particularly complicated, technical ones like an electric grid.

Since Monday, we’ve done testing on the system to learn what failed and why. We’re evaluating some upgrades that are more immune to extreme cold conditions. Our goal is to prevent such an occurrence from happening again.

While this was an unfortunate situation, I’m thankful for the response we had to it. I appreciate the efforts of all the Auburn Electric people who worked out in all that cold and under a lot of pressure. The response and collaboration with Indiana Michigan Power also helped us resolve the issues as quickly as possible under the circumstances.

Finally, emergency first responders were also essential to relief efforts. In addition to the dedicated Auburn police and fire departments, we received assistance from the Kendallville Fire Department, the Indiana State Police, the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department and DeKalb County Homeland Security. Together, we were able to help people make it through the outage and respond to calls for assistance in a timely manner. I am proud to be part of the Auburn and DeKalb County communities that band together in times of need.