The night the lights went out
Brief by Central Staff
Electricity – January 2003 – Colorado Central Magazine
Salida and environs were left in the dark for several hours just as the sun set on Saturday, Nov. 23.
That the electricity went out at dusk was not a coincidence, according to Steve Ralstead, who handles media relations for Xcel Energy, the company that acquired New Century energy, which was the company that acquired Public Service Co. of Colorado.
According to Ralstead, the problem started at the Mud Springs substation west of Poncha Springs. That substation is operated by the Western Area Power Administration, a part of the U.S. Department of the Interior that transmits and markets power from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
A WAPA crew replaced a transformer at Mud Springs that Saturday, and did not set its controls properly, Ralstead said. That transformer’s output goes over to Xcel’s Poncha Springs substation, which serves Xcel customers in the Salida area.
During the daylight hours, the transformer could handle the demand, even if it wasn’t set properly. But as the sun set and people started turning on their lights, the power demand grew, and the transformer failed to put out enough power.
That caused a big breaker to trip at the Poncha Springs substation, and so the power went off.
Ralstead said Xcel had trouble figuring out the extent of the outage — which is a big clue to the location of the failure — because few people called to report it.
So it took a while to realize the source of the problem, he said, and then a crew had to be brought in from Alamosa to get the Poncha breaker to work properly; meanwhile, WAPA crews had to change the settings on the transformer.
Power went out at 4:13 p.m., and was restored to much of town at 7:14 p.m., with other areas getting their electricity within the hour.
The Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center has emergency generators, so medical care there continued without interruption. But that was an exception.
Salida’s radio station, KVRH, has an emergency generator for the transmitter. But the studio computers weren’t hooked to it, and these days, computers run just about everything. The station computers had small battery backup power supplies that lasted about 15 minutes.
Our office computers have the same type of power supplies. They work well for the frequent summer glitches when the power blinks, and if it goes off for more than a couple of minutes, they provide enough time for an orderly shutdown so that our work can be saved.
But when the power is off for longer than a couple of minutes, the backups seem to have only enough power to chirp, which soon gets worse than annoying.
Like many Salidans, we stuck wood in the stove and fired up the Coleman lantern. Across the street at St. Joseph Church, the Saturday night mass was conducted by candlelight. And the stars were about as bright as stars can get that night.
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