Outages are attributed to circuit breaker

Published 1:40 am Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Community Editor

Who turned the lights out — again and again?
Residents and business owners in Washington’s downtown district have been asking that question since last week, when brief power outages started occurring several times a day, everyday.
Keith Hardt, director of Washington Electric Utilities, puts the blame for the outages on a circuit breaker in the substation that services the district.
Monday afternoon, Hardt said he found “some errors” in the circuit breaker’s microprocessor that indicated that it was starting to fail.
“We’ve taken some steps to bypass that piece of equipment so it won’t cause any more problems,” he said.
Since the outages started in succession early last week, Washington Electric Utilities workers had been hard at work trying to locate any equipment beginning to fail, Hardt said. They failed to identify any such equipment, which led Hardt to believe the outages were being caused by a “system imbalance.”
Monday morning, before the faulty circuit breaker — which was reading the system imbalance — was discovered, Washington Electric Utilities was attempting to identify the cause of the outages and correct the problem, Hardt said.
Hardt said it’s uncommon for such a circuit breaker to fail, explaining why it had been overlooked.
“We feel that we’ve found the problem,” he said.
The outages have been confined to Washington’s downtown district, and seem to start around 5 p.m., the system’s highest usage period during the day, according to Hardt.
“It’s not happening on other areas of the system,” he said.
Hardt said that if the outages persist, Washington Electric Utilities will “keep working on it a little every day.”
John VanCoultren, proprietor of Pia’s of Washington, hopes the problem has been fixed.
“It’s a major hindrance for us and all the restaurants,” he said.
VanCoultren said that each time the power goes out, he has to restart his restaurant’s computers.
“It also interferes with the cable (TV) and credit-card receiving,” he said.
VanCoultren said the outages are particularly troublesome when the occur in the middle of sales.
“It affects us major,” he said. “We have to reboot all the time.”
Businesses and residents elsewhere in Beaufort County are having better luck.
Heidi Smith, spokeswoman for Tideland Electric Membership Corp., said the power provider hasn’t had any problems with “brownouts.” Tideland is based in Pantego and serves more than 22,000 metered services in Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Washington, Pamlico and Craven counties,
“We’re doing fine. We’re not having any demand issues,” she said.