A power outage at one of Pierre’s four substations put out the lights for about 40 percent of the city’s electrical customers Thursday evening for two hours, including Riggs High, where a volleyball game was interrupted and a school play carried on using flashlights when the limelight went out.
Power was restored Thursday evening but the cause of the outage — a bad giant transformer still out of action that remains to be fixed.
The power went out about 6:20 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 17, to about 3,000 of the city’s 7,500 meters on the municipal electrical system for Pierre’s 14,000 residents. It was restored to the “vast majority” of them by about 8:20 p.m., Brooke Bohnenkamp told the Capital Journal.
“A little pocket” of electrical customers remained without power for a longer period, said Bohnenkamp, communication director for the city. She texted out information about the outage Thursday evening and used other social media to get the message out.
Traffic lights went out, requiring city crews to put up temporary traffic controls. Police officers parked squad vehicles with flashing lights at some main intersections and directed traffic.
In the Riggs gym, the volleyball game between Riggs and Sioux Falls Washington’s sophomores was stopped as the dark hit. But the players from both teams then spontaneously began a game of duck, duck goose, everyone sitting in a big circle and playing musical-chairs-like competition for a place. There was no inter-varsity competition in duck, duck, goose: everyone sat in the same circle.
But shortly, the volleyball games were moved across the wide Missouri River and completed in Stanley County High’s gym in Fort Pierre, with the sophomore game and the varsity matches completed by about 10 p.m. The junior high volleyball game at Riggs was completed before the power outage.
The power outage didn’t mean curtains for the fall play at Riggs High in the school’s theater, said director Jenny Hodges.
“We performed last night and our tech crew held flashlights!” Hodges told the Capital Journal via email. “We had a great audience and performance,” Hodges said. “In fact, the kids wish we could perform by flashlight again. We were all quite proud to accomplish what we did.”
Bohnenkamp said a city crew worked at the substation to determine the cause of the outage.
The city’s four substations take the high-voltage power from the big transmission lines that come into the city and ramp down the voltage for distribution to homes and businesses via underground lines.
The Ash Substation is at the northeast edge of the heart of the city, just north of North Harrison Avenue where it curves from going north to going northeast and just opposite the Lilac Avenue corner and next to the city’s giant water tanks, on the edge of the big open space that goes north up to Fourth Street/Airport Road.
When one substation goes off line, the power load is switched to one or more of the other three substations, keeping power on for all city residents, city leaders said. That switching was done Thursday evening to restore power to most who lost it within about two hours of the outage.
Bohnenkamp said she didn’t know of any serious problems caused by the power outage. But she said that between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday, that the police dispatch center took 334 calls, the great majority of them related to the power outage.
The outage was caused by big transformer sitting next to the Ash substation going down, as in not putting out any power, on Thursday, Utilities Director Brad Palmer told the Capital Journal on Sunday.
“It’s still down,” Palmer said. “We have a company coming in Monday to run some tests to find out why that happened.”
The transformer, “as big as a small house,” is a big part of “stepping down,” the 115,000 volts of the big transmission lines bringing power into Pierre to the 12,500 volt size of the power distributed to the 7,500 meters at homes and businesses, Palmer said.
The outage was not in one discrete area, but sort of scattered across town.
“The (Hughes County) court house was down, the high school was out, the (Northridge Plaza) mall was out and various places in between. Some traffic lights were down; some weren’t. I did hear the (Avera St. Mary’s) Hospital did go down. But I know they have backup generation, so we did not hear anything from them,” Palmer said.
That means two of the four substations serving the city are down, according to Palmer.
The Evans substation, off on the southeast side of North Euclid Avenue at Eighth Street — sort of between The Donut Shop and the big law enforcement campus on the north edge of town (no known connection between those establishments) — has been down most of the summer for upgrading, Palmer said.
That leaves the city’s Garfield substation, the newest one, near Menards on the far northeast edge of town, and the oldest one, the “Pierre” substation down the Missouri River and the Edgewater Apartments that actually is owned by the Western Area Power Administration, the giant wholesaler that wheels much of the electricity into the city.
The city’s municipal electric system is all “looped,” so that if any point of transmission or distribution goes out, the other substations can take over the distribution, according to Palmer.
Running the city on three substations is not a problem but running it on two “is not ideal,” Palmer said.
“What we have going for us is that this is not a heavy-load time of year,” he said, compared with the deep cold or hot days of summer when demand for heat or air conditioning is peaking.
But he wants to quickly get the specialists who deal with the high-powered 115 kv lines in to diagnose what appears to be a problem inside the Ash substation’s transformer, Palmer said.
Capital Journal reporters Scott Millard and Joseph Barkoff contributed to this report.