Facebook Twitter

Rocky Mountain Power says nearly all Utahns should have power by Thursday night

SHARE Rocky Mountain Power says nearly all Utahns should have power by Thursday night
merlin_2830122.jpg

Collin Van Kleeck plays a board game with his daughter Tryne by the fireplace at their home in Millcreek on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. The Van Kleecks have been without power after high winds knocked out power in the area.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Collin Van Kleeck isn’t asking for much — he just can’t wait to turn on the lights in his home.

“Taking a shower at night by candlelight might be fun for kids the first time, but it gets old pretty quick,” he said.

For him, the novelty wore off a couple of days ago, as he has been without power since 7 a.m. Tuesday after the “hurricane-level” windstorm hit the Wasatch Front. He understands it takes power companies time to fix such problems, but he is anxious to return to normal life — with lights and warmth and internet.

The Salt Lake City resident said he has been forced to work from friends’ homes for the past several days, using their internet connection, and can’t even cook on his own as all of his kitchen appliances are electric.

Van Kleeck was one of thousands in Utah still without power Thursday following Tuesday’s storm. The wind, which reached over 100 mph in certain areas, caused thousands of dollars in damage and knocked out power for more than 180,000 people.

Pam, another Salt Lake City resident without power who asked to be identified by only her first name, said it was especially frustrating to see others get their power back mere hours after losing it, while she has had to throw out spoiled food, take “luke-cold” showers and try to dry her hair without power.

“I know the people up on the hill, the people that live up on the foothills, are kicked back in their nice robes just watching their TVs, their soap operas,” she said. “They got their electricity back two hours after it went out, probably.”

According to Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Spencer Hall, Pam isn’t the only resident who feels that preferential treatment is given to the rich. And while he sympathizes, he says there is no veracity to the claim.

merlin_2830078.jpg

Residents dump trees and limbs at the Bountiful City Landfill in Bountiful on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. High winds on Tuesday knocked down numerous trees in area.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“There is certainly no preference given for socioeconomic status,” he said. “We don’t restore the rich neighborhoods first and ignore the poor side. It’s something that every utility nationwide always gets ... and it’s just simply not true.”

And if some form of favoritism is involved in restoring power, he certainly isn’t feeling the benefits.

“I don’t have power,” he said, laughing. “We don’t prioritize the spokesman for the power company.”

Hall said another complaint the power company often receives is that people’s neighbors have power while they do not, which is simply a symptom of the way power grids are sometimes set up.

“Our power grid often doesn’t correspond exactly to the neighborhoods or to the city streets,” he said. “So sometimes it can be frustrating for people when they feel like ‘I’m the only one without service.’”

Restoring power after a windstorm the magnitude of Tuesday’s comes in multiple steps, Hall explained, which account for some of the time discrepancies in people getting their power back. First comes damage assessment, so if a resident saw a Rocky Mountain Power vehicle drive past their house hours after the storm, that’s what it was doing. Next, the company works to repair the city’s “backbone.”

“The last couple days have been a lot of what we call backbone reinforcements, so fixing the substations, fixing the transmission lines, fixing the distribution lines,” Hall said Thursday morning.

merlin_2829982.jpg

Lloyd Hemmert and his wife, Janice, back left, clear as much of the smaller brush as they can on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, from a large tree that destroyed their garage in the Liberty Wells neighborhood of Salt Lake City. Residents and utility companies are continuing to clean up after severe winds hit the Wasatch Front on Tuesday and Wednesday, leaving hundreds of thousands without power.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The final step is restoring individual people’s power. Rocky Mountain Power uses triage when responding to widespread outages, trying to help as many people get power back as quickly as possible.

“We try to bring as many people back on as we can,” Hall said. “So we’ve done the damage assessment, and then we say, ‘OK, if we fix this circuit right here, this will bring on 3,000 people or this will bring on 10,000 people or this will bring on 15,000 people.’ We try to get bang for our buck on those first couple of restorations.”

Hall said Rocky Mountain Power has cut the number of outages to around 60,000 and was making a “big push” Thursday to try and get the rest back online. The push includes utilizing two mutual assistance groups from out-of-state sister utilities, who arrived Wednesday night and were working Thursday.

“We expect most people to be back online today,” Hall said Thursday. “There will still be a few going into Friday. But for the most part, we expect most people to have power by tonight.”

“Like I say, this was hurricane-level winds, and oftentimes a hurricane takes several weeks,” he added. “And so to have everybody back within 48 to 72 hours is really a remarkable response, considering how wide the area was that was affected.”

Despite this, Larry Madden, the interim superintendent of the Salt Lake City School District, announced in a press conference Thursday that the district would further delay the first day of school until Monday. The school district was originally scheduled to have its first day of online classes on Tuesday.

“We can’t wait to get back in classrooms, but to start tomorrow when so many people across the district are still without power is not the right decision,” he said.

Meanwhile, work continued to clear debris from fallen trees and foliage around the Wasatch Front. In Salt Lake City alone, the storm felled at least 1,000 trees on both public and private land, said Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall in the Thursday press conference. She followed up on Twitter later in the day with a promise that once cleanup is complete, the city will turn its focus to replanting.

“We were on track as a City to plant twice as many trees in 2020 as we did the year before,” Mendenhall tweeted. “While the expansion of our urban forest may look stunted now, I’m grateful that we are better off than we would have been without that focused effort.”

Mendenhall also announced at the news conference that she had signed a proclamation officially closing the following parks indefinitely due to the amount of damage they sustained: Liberty, Fairmont, Sunnyside, Jordan, Lindsey Gardens, Richmond, Riverside, Washington Square and the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

merlin_2829984.jpg

Utah Department of Transportation crews help clean up downed trees in the Rose Park neighborhood of Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. Residents and utility companies are continuing to clean up after severe winds hit the Wasatch Front on Tuesday and Wednesday, leaving hundreds of thousands without power.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Mendenhall identified the Rose Park area as being particularly hard-hit by the wind.

“We have a huge job ahead of us when it comes to the removal of debris,” she said. “And it will take us more than days, it will take weeks to recover from this.”

On Thursday morning, around 50 Utah Department of Transportation workers — armed with wood chippers, front loaders and other kinds of large machinery — set out to clear Rose Park, according to department spokesperson John Gleason.

“This was really a case of us looking to see what we could do to help assist in all of the aftermath. There is a lot of cleanup work to do,” he said. “We have the resources. We have the men and women who are willing and able to contribute, we have the heavy equipment, so we thought this would be a good opportunity for us to assist and to help get these communities back on their feet and help them in their cleanup efforts. Because it is massive.”

He said the work has progressed well so far. And after they are done in Rose Park, they plan to help other wind-damaged areas. He expected cleanup efforts to take them into the beginning of next week.

And UDOT isn’t the only group helping with cleanup. Mendenhall said she was thankful for the efforts of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, as well as volunteers from organizations such as United Way and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“If you need help as a result of this windstorm, you can call 211 — that’s always run by the United Way — and they will help us liaison these connections of deploying the city’s professionals and volunteer crews to help this cleanup effort,” she said.