Fixes sought for Ashland’s power woes

After 10 power outages since 1998, AmerenUE, City Council and community members want solutions.
Tuesday, November 25, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:32 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

The city of Ashland continues to search for a solution to electricity problems that have resulted in 10 power outages since 1998 and have ranged from 42 minutes to nearly 10 hours in length.

Since a 10-hour outage on Nov. 4, the city has been supplied with electricity routed through a transformer on the back of a large flatbed truck near New Bloomfield in Callaway County. While there haven’t been any outages with the temporary system being used by AmerenUE energy company, some Ashland residents are using the opportunity to call the utility’s attention to smaller but more frequent problems.

Gerald McKinney, who operates the Home Movie Depot, was among residents who came to a City Council meeting last week that included representatives of the Missouri Public Service Commission, Boone County Commission and AmerenUE.

“I’m just fed up,” McKinney said. “Several times a week, the lights will go very brown or very bright.”

AmerenUE District Manager Larry Merry said the utility had looked into problems at McKinney’s business but did not know that the surges and brownouts were a larger problem for the town.

“Until we walked in the meeting a while ago, we were not aware there was a brownout problem,” Merry said after the meeting. AmerenUE can monitor electricity as it leaves the substation, he said, but it cannot always know what happens to the lines between the New Bloomfield facility and Ashland, which is 15 miles away.

The surges and shortages residents say they’ve endured led Mayor Alan Bauer to ask the question on everyone’s minds: “Does it warrant a new substation here in Ashland?”

Public Service Commissioner Warren Wood responded by referring to a list distributed by AmerenUE that describes 10 outages since 1998 at City Hall, which is in the commercial area. “Outages of these durations and of these frequencies, if this is the complete list, don’t look that bad,” Wood said.

Statistics from AmerenUE also show 31 momentary outages at City Hall since 1998. Storms and line work, including the installation of squirrel guards, were among the causes.

AmerenUE has plans to provide a substation closer to Ashland in 2006. Long distances allow more opportunities for power disruption, Wood said, because the wires are more exposed to wind, trees and squirrels.

“We’ll be having meetings periodically with the business people who were at the meeting,” AmerenUE spokesman Mike Cleary said on Friday, adding that the utility will install recording devices around town to detect surges and shortages. “We intend to place one of these devices in a public location where anyone can view the data,” he said.

In addition, AmerenUE plans to bring in technical experts from St. Louis who will examine the problems residents said they have experienced, Cleary said.

Some have suggested installing a line connecting Ashland to Boone Electric Cooperative. Then, when outages occur, Ashland could get electricity from that utility company until Ameren’s service is restored. A connection currently exists, but it cannot carry the load required to power all of Ashland.

Boone County Commissioner Karen Miller, who represents the Ashland area, told the council that she will look into grants that might be available for the city to finance installation of the extra line.

“To build a redundant system that would serve all the needs of the city of Ashland would be a very expensive proposition,” Roger Clark, general manager for Boone Electric Cooperative, said on Friday.

“A bigger issue is the capacity of the substation,” Clark said. “Obviously adding the city of Ashland to that would create a significant burden on that facility,” he said, adding that to update the facility “just so you’re a backup in case something goes wrong is pretty expensive.”

Boone Electric, Clark said, is willing to work with Ashland and AmerenUE on developing a plan to provide Ashland with power during failures. However, “I’ve not had anybody approach us and say, ‘What can you do, what are you willing to do?’” Clark said. “Ashland is part of our community. If we can help that community, I’d be excited to do it, but it’s got to make sense for the members of the cooperative as well.”

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