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State says outages were ‘major events’

SHARE State says outages were ‘major events’

The Utah Division of Public Utilities is recommending that four 2003 power outages — including last year's holiday outages — be given "major event" status, a designation which would relieve Utah Power from reporting the outages in network performance reviews and exempt the company from customer guarantee payments.

Outages and their duration are typically tracked by the utility as a measure of internal performance. For example, it measures how quickly the utility answers the phone, how quickly it switches on power to new customers and how quickly it restores routine or planned outages. In addition, outage data are used to calculate the five worst performing circuits annually that need attention or improvements.

Dave Eskelsen, a spokesman for Utah Power parent company PacifiCorp, said outages caused by large-scale weather events and deemed major events are not included in performance tracking because they are outside the company's control.

But some critics have argued that the utility should not be granted major event status, particularly for last year's holiday outages, because of an alleged failure by Utah Power to perform adequate maintenance of its lines and distribution system and to trim trees and maintain poles.

Salt Lake attorney David Irvine last April filed a class-action petition with state regulators seeking $40 million to $160 million in damages on behalf of customers who experienced outages of more than 24 hours. In July, the Utah Public Service Commission denied the petition's class-action status.

"It's still significant," Irvine said. "I have seen nothing yet as a matter of public record as to why the Utah Power system failed and none of the municipal systems in the same geographical area experienced anything near that kind of failure."

The four outages at issue include:

Aug. 14-15 — A thunderstorm in Ogden and Tremonton with wind gusts more than 43 mph knocked out power to 21,125 customers at a damage cost of $208,415.

Aug. 21-23 — A thunderstorm with wind gusts more than 100 mph affected 104,708 customers in American Fork, Layton, Ogden, Salt Lake City, Smithfield and Tremonton. Total cost of the damage was $329,229.

Oct. 30-Nov. 4 — A snowstorm of 4.8 inches and wind speeds at 53 mph affected 124,640 customers in American Fork, Cedar City, Jordan Valley, Layton, Ogden, Park City, Salt Lake City, Smithfield and Tremonton. Cost of the damage was $525,000.

Dec. 25-26—A snowstorm left 12 inches of snow in Salt Lake City, 17 to 19 inches in Layton and Ogden and 3 to 4 inches in Draper and American Fork. The snowfall continued intermittently through Jan. 3, 2004, affecting 318,379 customers with damage estimated at $12 million.

PacifiCorp agreed under terms of its 1999 merger with ScottishPower that residential customers could claim $50 if electricity was not restored within 24 hours and $25 for each additional 12-hour delay, barring damage caused by extreme weather. Commercial customers were guaranteed $100.

"A major event declaration simply says that this is an outage that was beyond the company's reasonable control," Eskelsen said, "so these customer guarantees do not apply."

E-mail: danderton@desnews.com