The 2003 holiday power outages that left many Wasatch Front residents in the dark for days may be a distant memory, but according to people who live in the East Millcreek area, power outages are a way of life.
On Wednesday a handful of East MillCreek residents met with Utah Power officials demanding answers as to why their area was more prone to the electrical disruptions.
Gordon Knight, an East Millcreek resident of 22 years, said outages in his neighborhood were occurring about 11 times a year, often for several hours.
"There is a consistency of outages that seem to be highly above average and they seem to be longer and longer in their duration," Knight said. "We just had one in April."
Those outages prompted Knight to organize a group of 65 concerned residents who are now demanding action by the utility. The group has its own engineering consultant and has sent signed petitions to the Utah Public Service Commission outlining the problem.
Utah Power representatives acknowledged that the East Millcreek area was more at risk for outages than other parts of the system.
Doug Bennion, Utah Power's director of transmission systems, told residents that their area on average was witnessing about seven outages a year with a duration longer than five minutes. Another 12 to 15 momentary "blinks" in power were also occurring.
"We agree you are having the outages," Bennion said, "and we agree we need to do something about it."
Bennion added that roughly 35 percent of the outages in the East Millcreek area were caused by weather, 24 percent by wind, 11 percent by trees, 8 percent by lightning and 7 percent by aging equipment. The remaining 15 percent of outages were traced to vehicles and "other" reasons.
Some balked at the idea that weather was the primary culprit for the area's disruptions. Knight questioned whether a lack of maintenance was being masked under weather related causes.
David Ward, the engineering consultant to the group and a former PacifiCorp employee, said seven steps are required to solve the problem, including tightening wires with excessive sag, a thorough inspection of all lines and poles, and larger fuses for a 580-foot main tap line that crosses a gully near Millcreek Canyon.
In addition, Ward said more maintenance was needed at the Millcreek substation that services the residents.
"Two breakers have failed in the last 10 years," Ward said. "The last circuit breaker that failed allowed an energized line to drop to the ground at 31st South and 20th East. It remained energized until the entire substation fuse blew."
Ken Shortt, an engineer for Utah Power, told residents the utility is embarking on a nine-month, $70,000 program in July to improve reliability in East Millcreek.
The focus of those efforts will include vegetation management, fuse coordination and the replacement of old and broken wood insulator pins, which allow the bell-shaped insulators to rest directly on cross arms, making them prone to current leakages and fire. Shortt said those three things will improve overall reliability to the area.
Since being acquired by ScottishPower in 1999, the utility has embarked on a $203 million investment campaign in distribution upgrades called Quantum Leap. Quantum Leap already has added greater voltage capacity to lines and substations as well as improved transformers and conductors.
"The issues these customers are concerned about is a basic service issue," said Kimball Hansen, a spokesman for Utah Power. "They've experienced a number of outages in this part of the valley more than other parts of our system . . . The circuits that are the worst performing circuits are the ones that we focus on and give priority to and a number of those circuits are in this area."
For Knight and Ward, the utility's efforts may be too little, too late.
"Enough's enough," Knight said. "I can't depend on Utah Power. Manually, they will work out what's prudent. But to say, 'we're going to go the extra mile, we're going to take care of this problem,' we're not hearing that. We're hearing the minimum."