Blackouts blamed on old power system

By By Lindsey Kelstrom

By Lindsey Kelstrom

Although scorching summer temperatures put stress on the campus electrical grid last week, the cause of several power-outages is being tied to outdated electrical equipment, not the heat.

Cory Higgins, director of plant operations at the U, confirmed that the hot weather did not cause the power failures.

“Some electrical equipment runs better in cool temperatures, but the (power) loads have been below design capacity,” Higgins said.

Higgins said last week’s blackouts were the result of problems with old and worn-out equipment. An underground, high-voltage power switch exploded Thursday because it could not handle electrical demands. The failure caused power-outages in 18 buildings on campus.

The power also went out Friday when a power strip blew up because its wires were stressed and worn-out.

Power was restored both times by manually rerouting electricity to individual buildings and replacing dysfunctional cables. Thursday, power was returned about two hours after the explosion occurred. However, power wasn’t rerouted to some buildings Friday until up to five hours had passed.

Campus electricians plan to upgrade and eventually replace old parts in the power grid. Each year Plant Operations is given one million dollars toward equipment upgrades.

“The lower part of campus is the oldest in electrical equipment,” said Lowell Fullmer, supervisor for the electric shop. “Within the next month we will begin an upgrade phase in that area, digging up and installing new cables and wires.”

Kingsbury Hall went without power for most of the day Friday. Staff members were sent home for the day because they were unable to work without their computers.

“We didn’t have any dramatic cancellations or postponements due to the power outages,” said John Caywood, the building’s facilities manager. “The main impact was on the ticket office because our ticketing system was unavailable.”

Employees in the Union were also inconvenienced by the blackout.

“The food service center ordered a huge order of dry ice because we didn’t know how long the power would be out,” said Michelle Brown, assistant director for the Union. “And the offices on the fourth floor heated up pretty quickly.”

In response to each of the power failures last week, cables were replaced and rerouted, but the high-voltage strip and switch that triggered the outage have yet to be replaced.

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