Extreme cold causes power outage, delays Clovis schools

Freedom New Mexico: Clarence Plank An Xcel Energy crew works on power lines in Portales Tuesday. An Xcel spokesman said the company has a short-term solution to power failures in the city and is developing a plan to address the issue long term.

Sharna Johnson

Extreme cold and overloaded circuits are being blamed for power failures in Clovis which lingered into early afternoon Tuesday.

The outages, discovered just before 7 a.m., prompted a two-hour start delay at Clovis Municipal Schools.

By 8:10 a.m. all power had been restored, but there was a second outage at 10:30 a.m., which was addressed within minutes, according to Xcel Spokesman Wes Reeves.

Reeves said as power was restored, appliances and electric items restarted, causing secondary outages scattered throughout the community, leaving some without power into early afternoon.

Reeves said technicians believe they have stabilized the system, however there could be more brief outages, especially if the extreme cold lingers.

The National Weather Service was predicting lows in the single digits — as low as 5 degrees — overnight and a daytime high today of 30.

“Customers should be aware that these are extreme conditions and should be prepared to keep warm in some other way if the power goes out again,” Reeves said.

Overload outages are not uncommon, particularly in extreme weather, Reeves said.

It was 14 degrees in Clovis as of 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

“It’s the coldest day of the year and if everybody gets up at roughly the same time and starts turning up the heat, (it can happen),” he said. “It’s not terribly uncommon on the coldest day of the year or sometimes the hottest day of the year. In these extreme temperatures we sometimes see overloading situations.”

Xcel workers discovered the first outage at 6:47 a.m. And began working to shift power loads throughout the local system.

Reeves said part of the problem is increased development. He also said as appliances are updated in homes, the load on the system changes.

The difference in load doesn’t surface until it’s maxed, such as in extreme weather, according to Reeves.

“We have areas where growth has occurred (and) circuits are rated for a certain amount of load,” he said.

“It seems to be winter … exposes these weakness more than summer. It’s an aging distribution system, and it does require investment.”

City Manager Joe Thomas, who was quick to point out he was “not in any way trying to speak for or against the utilities,” said any time a new subdivision is created or a building put up in the city, utility companies are involved in the planing and throughout the process.

The affected area in Tuesday’s outage was the far northern end of Clovis, he said.

Thomas said crews were out throughout the night and would continue checking traffic lights and other power-based services to be sure they were functioning properly after outages.

Reeves said the issue in Clovis Tuesday differs from power failures plaguing the Portales area, where 600-800 customers were without power during the same time frame. It was the fourth series of power failures in a week.

Repeated overloads in Portales indicate a deeper problem, Reeves said, noting efforts are ongoing to resolve the problem.

“Our engineers are having to re-balance that system over there and its going to take some more effort obviously,” he said.

In the short-term, Reeves said engineers were installing a higher capacity breaker at the Portales station to allow more power to flow and stop the outages.

Long-term, Reeves said they will be moving the load off the area where the problem lies, a process which could take months.

Temperatures in the area dipped to lows around 10 degrees Monday night.