Castle Valley Comments – Sept. 20, 2019

Over three weeks after the Castle Valley area and the rest of the county experienced a widespread power outage, people are still discovering effects from the surge that occurred when the electricity was restored.

The power in the Castle Valley and vicinity, which included Castleton, Professor Valley and points along the Colorado River, was only out for a short time compared to the rest of the county, which experienced an outage for several hours. But about 10:40 that evening when the electricity was restored, the surge of power did widespread damage in the form of ruined surge protectors, tripped breakers and ground fault circuit interrupters (GFI/GFCI) breakers.

It eventually knocked out the community’s phone system the next morning until a repairman from Frontier Communications could reset the equipment and download the software that operates the phone service.

At our house it tripped a surge protector and tripped three of the breakers in the main electrical panel, and I discovered a day later that a GFI plug was tripped in the garage where the freezer is located. I was able to catch the garage problem in time before everything in the freezer thawed out, but otherwise there was no damage.

A similar situation existed at Fire Station 2 in Castle Valley. For others the damage was a little more extreme. Many reported that their surge protectors were damaged beyond repair and had to be replaced, and many people had breakers in their main panel damaged and had to be replaced. Greg Halliday recently discovered that the charging unit that charges the battery in his handheld fire radio was damaged. He initially thought the battery was faulty. But when he replaced it with another battery the problem persisted and the real problem was discovered when he realized the charger was damaged during the power surge.

Local electrician Brian Murray said he has been on four calls related to the power problem. Two were simply to reset the tripped breakers and power strips, one was to replace some circuit breakers, and another was to replace a GFI breaker. Murray said that anything with electronics is susceptible to damage during these power events

So just how much power caused all of these problems? We will probably never know, but according to local techno-geek Hank Freeman, it was more than 150 volts. Freeman, being the technical person that he is, has a line voltage meter installed in his house that measures the volts coming in. He said the voltage normally fluctuates between 108 and 121 volts and during heavy use it will typically hover around 115 volts. But on the evening of Aug. 28 the needle of the voltage meter “went up against the peg,” which only goes up to 150 volts. So he knows the surge was over that and possibly as much as 220 volts. That night he said he heard the breakers tripping so fast it sounded like “popcorn popping.”

Some people in the valley are filing for a reimbursement from Rocky Mountain Power. Ken Bell, representing Rocky Mountain Power, said anyone can file a claim. The utility will receive the claim then investigate and determine the cause and whether a claim is warranted. This is done on a case-by-case basis, he said, and there is no guarantee until an investigation is completed. He said to call 888-221-7070 and speak with a customer service representative to set up a request.

Our next Castle Valley Library program will be next week. Faylene Roth invites everyone to join them Tuesday, Sept 24 for stargazing under Castle Valley’s dark skies. “We’ll gather in the town hall at 7 p.m. for a few short films about astronomy then go outside at 8 p.m. for a tour of what we can see in the night sky with unaided eye,” she said. “We will identify the brightest stars and the fall constellations and discover why some stars are different colors and how to gauge the darkness of our sky.” These monthly programs, which alternate between a movie and a presentation, are always interesting and informative.

A graveside memorial ceremony was held Sept. 11 at 11 a.m. for former Castle Valley Fire Chief Floyd Stoughton who died Sept 4. The service was conducted by his son, Curt, who spoke about the life of his father. As the current fire chief, I also offered a few comments about Floyd’s dedication to the fire department and the community. A flag ceremony and a 21-gun salute was performed by the American Legion Post 54 followed by a “final fire call” from the Grand County Sheriff’s dispatch office, which thanked him for his dedicated service.