Town Talk: Power outages and protocols

Town Talk

Editor’s Note: The City of New Ulm presents a weekly column highlighting activities in different departments in the city government. Once a month the city will answer questions from readers. Questions on New Ulm city issues can be sent to comments@ci.new-ulm.mn.us.

Power outages can happen for a variety of reasons ranging from a blown fuse and the neighborhood squirrel to the effects of inclement weather. They also can range from affecting a single home to the entire community. No matter what the severity, all outages are distressing and unwelcome.

Whether New Ulm Public Utilities generates and/or purchases electricity for its customers, there are four locations that have distribution feeders within the city limits: Center Street Substation, Power Plant, North Side Substation and South Side Substation. This is where the electrical demand is distributed with multiple distribution feeders/circuit breakers at each location. Each of these feeders delivers power to a specific area of the city.

Each distribution feeder/circuit breaker has an auto/non-auto feature. In the auto position, the breaker is controlled by a digital relay that has predetermined settings programmed into it. These settings are the results of a study done by electrical engineers on our entire electrical system. When in auto, the circuit breaker will open (trip) and re-close automatically based on the programmed settings, up to a total of three times before remaining open. Major electric circuits, with a substantial amount of underground cables, are set to trip only one time to prevent unnecessary damage to the circuit.

When the breaker is set in the non-auto position it will operate one time and remain open. The non-auto position is mostly used for safety reasons. When a lineman is out working on the electrical system, the breaker of the circuit they are working on will be set to non-auto. This will provide additional protection for the lineman if a fault should occur.

In the Power Plant control room we have a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system to monitor the distribution substations and distribution feeders 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The system will notify us when we have a major problem in the system.

The SCADA system only monitors the major facilities and the feeders, so if a distribution fuse blows, we will not know about it at the Power Plant. Therefore, we depend on customers to call in to report an outage. If you hear a loud bang (fuse blows) and you lose electric power, mention this when reporting the outage. This may expedite the process of restoring your power by helping to pinpoint the outage location.

When an outage occurs during normal working hours, all customer calls are directed to the Electric Distribution office. During off-hours, calls are directed to the Power Plant, which is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In the event of a large-scale outage during off-hours, extra personnel are called in to answer the large volume of calls from customers and to assist in the restoration of power.

During small-scale outages, affected customers who call in to report the outage are asked their name and address. If multiple calls are received from a particular area of the community, this information allows members of the line crew to patrol specific lines to locate and correct the problem.

New Ulm’s electric system is very reliable overall, as it consists of modern equipment and is well maintained. But in the event of an outage, your help and patience is appreciated by the Electric Department. If you experience a power outage, please call 507-359-8264.

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