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Let there be lights

Ashland looks at problems that are causing the city too often to be left in the dark

ASHLAND ' Workers get out the candles at Quinz restaurant on the Plaza when they see summer thunderstorms coming. An electric failure isn't far behind, they figure.

We joke about it, said Quinz owner Charles Tobey. Three or four times a year there's power outages.

But electric officials are taking a rash of recent failures seriously. An analysis of city systems is under way in an effort to increase reliability and to accommodate growth.

A city electric utility provides power throughout town. Power from Bonneville Power Administrationarrives in Ashland over Pacific Power lines that feed two Pacific Power substations and another operated by BPA. Three widespread outages since August have been caused by Pacific Power equipment failures.

A transmission line failure near Pacific Power's Oak Knoll substation cut all power in Ashland from 2 to 7 a.m. on Sept. 7. Pacific Power's Nevada Street substation tripped off-line on Sept. 18, affecting four feeders, including the downtown business district. Power was off from — to — a.m. Nov. 8 for one-third of the town's customers, the result of a rain-caused short at the Nevada Street site.

Each of these failures were all from different causes, said Monte Mendenhall, regional community manager for PacifiCorp, Pacific Power's parent company.It's not a single cause that's reoccurring.

John Lebens, Ashland account representative with Bonneville Power Administration, said the number of recent failures was sort of a yellow flag.

They had a recent spate, but longer-term service has been pretty good through Pacific Power, said Lebens.

Lebens said BPA would work with Ashland and Pacific Power to analyze service.

We haven't done a study since 1989, said Dick Wanderscheid, director of city electric and telecommunication services. We had a lot of growth since then.

Two circuits feed the city's three substations. But a lower capacity, 69-kilovolt circuit from the north can't provide full service to the entire town at all times in the event the 115-kilovolt south circuit fails.

Several potential solutions exist. The BPA substation on Mountain Avenue, newest of the three, was built with expansion in mind. Capacity of the north circuit might also be boosted.

We want to look at shifting some load to the Mountain Avenue station, said Wanderscheid. We've been meeting with PacifiCorp to upgrade their line from the north.

Restaurants and others may have to endure more failures before any updates. And failures mean lost business. While most restaurants cook with gas, there's no way to operate fans to keep kitchen heat down when electricity fails, said Ron Roth, co-owner of Plaza Cafe.

Thinking ahead of annual goals for the City Council, (a Nevada Street upgrade) would be an important goal, said Roth.

It's not a safe environment for the cooks, said Tobey. You lose your power, you lose your lights. You can't have someone cutting off a finger.

Scott Johnson, Ashland Electric and Telecommunications Operations supervisor, explains the workings of the city's Nevada Street substation. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell