Electricity 101 – Restoring Power Q&A
Q. What causes power outages?
A. Many outages are planned in advance when crews need to perform system upgrades and routine repairs. Our staff strategically decides when to perform these system upgrades or routine repairs so the duration of these planned outages is the shortest possible and impacts the fewest people.
Although we are committed to providing our Members and those they serve with the most reliable service possible, events that are beyond our control sometimes occur. Natural events such as lightning, high winds, winter storms, or man-induced accidents—such as transportation accidents and construction accidents—can cause service disruptions. Rest assured that whatever the cause, steps are taken to restore power as quickly as safely possible.
Q. Who is responsible for restoring my power?
A. The answer will depend on where the damage occurred on the electric grid. Sunflower is an electric generation and transmission electric utility that provides wholesale generation and transmission services to the six distribution service providers that are our Member-Owners.
If an outage occurs due to a problem with high voltage transmission lines or substations, Sunflower’s crews fix the problem. If an outage occurs due to a problem with distribution substations or distribution lines, the crews from your electric service provider repair the problem. At times, Sunflower’s crews are called on to assist our Members’ distribution crews and vice versa.
Q. Why do my neighbors sometimes have power during an outage when I don’t?
A. Many factors can cause this situation. Your neighbors may be on a different supply line, or there may be trouble just on the section supplying your immediate area. The cause of the outage may be isolated to one circuit or multiple circuits, or the problem may affect only the power lines connecting to your residence.
Q. What are the priorities for service restoration?
A. First, our staff and the staff from your electric service provider will work around the clock until service is restored. Safety of the public and our staff is our highest priority. The sequence for service restoration includes the following:
Sunflower crews complete an assessment of the overall system and focus on repairing major lines and substations. Crews must also clear hazards such as snapped or leaning utility poles or uprooted trees that may be on the electric lines or fallen wires.
Crews from your electric service provider focus on restoring power to key services essential to community safety, health and welfare—such as hospitals, police stations, fire, communications, water, transportation and other vital public services.
Repair priorities are based on the electrical facilities that will return service to the largest number of customers in the shortest period of time. Once crews restore major circuits, they then turn their attention to system repairs that affect fewer customers.
Before the service to your street can be restored, crews must repair damaged substations and main electric lines and wires that feed power to streets such as yours. Next, downed or damaged wires between utility poles and individual homes are repaired.
Q. Why at times does it seem to take so long to restore my power?
A. When damage is widespread—such as after a severe storm—it may be impossible to restore electric service to everyone at the same time. In such cases, crews from your electric service provider must give priority to hospitals, police and fire departments, water systems, communication facilities, and other such essential services. After that, repairs are made based on restoring power to the greatest number of customers in the shortest amount of time. Sometimes your circuit may be among the first repaired, and other times it may take longer. When there is a delay in restoring your power, your patience is very much appreciated.
Q. Why can’t I get an estimate of how long it will be before my power is restored?
A. With a widespread outage event, crews move quickly from call to call. They assess damage at the scene and make repairs or call for additional materials, equipment or manpower, depending on the problem. A distribution fuse can take a few minutes to repair; a distribution transformer can take a couple of hours to replace; but widespread damage to the transmission system can take days, weeks, or even months to repair.
Widespread damage from a severe storm may make it impossible to accurately predict when a particular customer’s power will be restored—especially in the early phases of an outage when the extent of the damage is unknown.
Once the extent of damage is understood, restoration times are affected by the degree of damage to the electric transmission and distribution facilities. High-voltage transmission lines are given first priority because they supply electricity to the entire distribution system. Substations are repaired next to energize local distribution lines. A distribution line serving a local area may have multiple damage locations, all of which must be found and repaired. All these factors affect the ability to predict when a specific customer’s power will be restored.
Q. Why did a service truck go through my neighborhood without stopping to restore my power?
A. Service crews must first address public safety hazards and make repairs that restore power to essential service loads. A truck may have passed your home as part of conducting early system assessments or on the way to one of these high-priority assignments.
Q. Should I report a downed wire or loss of power
A. If your power goes out, please report the service outage but do not report a downed wire unless you actually see one at your location.
Never assume that a damaged system conductor is de-energized. Always treat conductors as though they are energized. Conductors that are low hanging or even conductors on the ground can still be energized or can suddenly become energized during system recovery and could cause serious injury or death. Stay clear of any conductor, electric lines and other infrastructure until they are safely cleared by proper utility personnel.
If there is no downed wire at a location where one has been reported, this only slows down restoration efforts. Each downed line report must be assessed before repairs can be made. Time spent traveling to and checking out a working location slows down the process of restoring power.
The bottom line is, if you see a downed wire, report it to your electric service provider because public safety is the main concern. Otherwise, if your power is out, just report to your electric service provider that your power is out. You will help restore everyone’s power more quickly.
Q. Why did my power come back on and then go off again a few minutes later?
A. Restoring power to your home is a complex and dangerous job. Sometimes, after a line is repaired in one location, other damage causes the line to go out again. At other times, it may be necessary to turn off your power once more to safely repair other problems. In any case, crews work to restore your power again as soon as safely possible.
Q. What is my best source of information about restoration efforts?
A. Sunflower and your electric service provider regularly update local news media on outage restoration efforts. Listening to the radio is one way to stay informed of our progress after a storm. Updated information also may be available on your electric service provider’s website and social media page or on the Sunflower website at www.sunflower.net. During a sustained regional outage, the Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc., website may post information concerning the outage. Please visit the KEC at www.kec.org.
Q. Can I use a portable generator to produce electricity for my home during an outage?
A. Yes, but please follow the manufacturer’s directions and make sure your home is properly safeguarded so as not to interfere with the flow of electricity once the power is restored. Improper connection of an emergency generator cannot only damage the generator or your own equipment, but such a generator may also back feed the normal electric feed to your home and place the lives of crews at risk as they restore the system.
Q. Why does my power sometimes blink in a momentary outage so that my digital clocks need to be reset?
A. Most distribution lines are protected by special devices called breakers and reclosers. These devices not only cut off power when a fault occurs, but they can also automatically close to re-energize the circuit. If a momentary fault occurs, as sometimes happens, the short-circuit condition quickly clears, and the line is automatically re-energized. When this occurs, there is a momentary loss of power (typically less than a few seconds) to the customers on that circuit.
Q. What if I only have electricity in one part of my house?
A. Power comes into your house through a piece of electrical equipment called the service panel. From your home’s service panel, electricity is routed through individual circuits to different parts of the house. Each circuit is protected by a circuit breaker or fuse. When you have power in some circuits but not others, the first action step is to check your own service panel to determine whether a circuit breaker is tripped or a fuse is blown.
If your breakers or fuses are okay, there is another possibility. Most houses are supplied with electricity through multiple wires. If one of the wires breaks or becomes damaged, you may have power only in some circuits, and heavy-duty electric appliances—such as air conditioners, hot water heaters, clothes dryers or ranges—may not operate properly. In that case, contact your electric service provider.
Q. Do you reimburse for food loss or damaged equipment during an outage?
A. Outages due to weather are beyond our control, and although Sunflower and your electric service provider will work together to attempt to restore power as quickly and safely as possible, extensive system damage can take several days to repair. Unfortunately, reimbursement is not made to customers for equipment damaged or food lost during events outside our control. Customers should contact their renter’s or homeowner’s insurance carrier to determine if their policies cover such losses.
Q. Do I receive a credit on my electric bill for the time I was without power?
A. You are only charged by your electric service provider for the amount of electricity you use. During the time your service was interrupted, your meter did not register electric usage, and you will not be charged for any consumption.
Q. How is electricity provided for people with special medical problems, such as those on life-sustaining medical equipment, during an outage?
A. Those who have electrically operated medical equipment in their home that is necessary to sustain life or avoid serious medical complications should contact their electric service provider with this information prior to an outage. If an outage occurs, you should contact your electric service provider immediately to alert them of the situation.