Conservation Corner – December 2022

Outage Safety Preparation and Communication

Tis the season for winter weather, and winter weather can be unpredictable, if not downright problematic at times.

Utility vehicle in a snowy forestKeeping the lights on throughout the Columbia Rural Electric Association (REA) system can be a delicate balancing act. While the Columbia REA team does everything possible to deliver your power through safe, reliable, cost-effective means, the Co-op cannot guarantee 100% uninterrupted power, and let’s face it, there is no good time for a power outage. Outages not only leave you in the dark, but can disrupt communications, businesses and services, cause food spoilage, and even prevent the use of medical devices. For these reasons, it is critical for you to be prepared.

Below are some basic tips to help you:

  • Have flashlights ready in multiple, easily accessible locations around your home or business; LED flashlights are great because they last much longer.
  • Have plenty of fresh, spare batteries for your flashlights and other devices.
  • Have emergency candles and plenty of matches.
  • Have a battery operated or hand crank radio available.
  • Store foods that do not require refrigeration and require very little warming or cooking.
  • Have other means to prepare food such as a grill and grill supplies, a camping stove, or an open fire.
  • Have a manual can opener for opening cans of food; if you are a coffee drinker, have a French press available.
  • Keep your cell phone, iPads, and laptops fully charged; also have battery chargers and car chargers ready and accessible.
  • Keep your automobile’s fuel tank at least half full.
  • Know how long refrigerated medications can be stored at higher temperatures and have a plan for alternate refrigeration for critically important medications.
  • Keep frozen containers of water in your freezer; this will help keep food cold longer if power goes out.
  • Keep a supply of books, board games, playing cards and other items to stay entertained.
  • Sign up for local alerts.
  • Keep extra blankets or sleeping bags handy for warmth during the winter months.
  • Have Columbia REA’s emergency contact information available.

In addition to these common preparations, some members, particularly members that use special healthcare equipment like oxygen generators or dialysis equipment that require power, should notify Columbia REA in advance. Columbia REA maintains a life support list that will flag your account in our system as critical in the event of an outage or emergency. Special consideration and notice are given to members on this list. Please contact our office at (509) 526-4041 if you would like to be added to this list.

Standby Generators

Lineworker working on a power line in the snowSome members prepare for the possibility of an extended power outage by purchasing an electric generator as a standby system. In some cases, these systems can provide electricity to major appliances, lights, or possibly even an entire home or business until power is restored.

There are 2 basic standby generation installations: portable standby generators and permanent standby generators. Portable standby generators are typically under 8,000 watts and would most often be used to power a select number of items in your home or business. Appliances and lights are unplugged from wall outlets and connected directly to the generator utilizing electrical cords. When using this type of generator, make sure that the generator is placed outdoors, or the exhaust is vented outside to prevent hazardous exhaust gasses from entering your home or business.

Permanent standby generators are permanently connected to your home or business electrical system. They can range in size from 5,000 watts to more than 20,000 watts and can provide electricity to the entire building. They can be either manually or automatically operated, depending on the type of double-throw transfer switch installed. A manual transfer switch requires the user to physically move the switch from the utility source position to a standby generator source position. An automatic transfer switch detects a utility power outage and changes from the utility source to the generator source position. During a power outage, typically less than one minute later, the automatic standby generator is powering your home or business. Once utility power is restored, it will switch back to the utility source.

Generators offer peace of mind but can also pose serious safety hazards to you and others, including hazardous exhaust gasses if not properly ventilated, excessive sound levels, and electrical shock. To reduce these risks, always follow all manufacturer’s safety instructions. In addition to your safety, the safety of Columbia REA personnel working on the electrical lines is of paramount importance to the Cooperative. It is required that standby generators have appropriate safety devices to prevent connecting to the energized system or feeding energy back into the system during a power outage. Also, please be aware that members are responsible for any injuries or damage to their own property, a neighbor’s property, or Columbia REA property, resulting from an improperly installed or operated generator.

Outage Communications

Columbia REA understands that our members are interested in information regarding outages, both in real-time and post-outage, and we are committed to providing our members with outage information. Currently Columbia REA provides updates during outages and additional details are provided on Columbia REA’s website, and through social media channels after outages.

It is Columbia REA’s priority to provide real-time outage information during extended outages so members can prepare their homes, businesses, and families to be without power for lengthy periods of time. We ask that members recognize that our first priority is to assess the situation and develop a plan to get the lights back on. The process includes locating the cause of the outage, calling appropriate personnel, bringing additional generation online as necessary, and energizing distribution lines to restore service to customers.

Columbia REA reports real-time outage updates in a variety of ways to ensure all members have access to current information. Members can call our main number after-hours, (509) 526-4041, or (800) 642-1231 to let us know if you are experiencing an outage. You can also visit the Columbia REA Facebook page, where current information is posted throughout an outage. Depending on weather, time of day, cause and location, changes in the status of an outage can take minutes or hours, therefore this information is not always available immediately. Columbia REA provides updates as soon as new information is available, so please be patient and check our website and our Facebook page periodically.

Charlie DeSalvo, Energy Efficiency Specialist

If you have any questions about energy efficiency, email Charlie DeSalvo or call (509) 526-4041.