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Critters, storms trigger 'blinks'

2-second power outages hit Riverton area

By Alex Bridges

A spate of brief power outages hit a section of Front Royal in recent weeks but officials say not to worry.

Customers on the north side of town, including the Riverton area, experienced numerous power blinks in the past three weeks, Joseph Waltz, director of the Department of Energy Services, said Thursday.

"It's been an unfortunate event for the people in that area," Waltz said. "The main issue is we're finding the problems. We're finding the outages."

The department has received many calls in the past few weeks from people reporting blinks that appear limited to the north end of Front Royal, though similar outages do occur in other parts of town, Waltz said.

"But unfortunately the events that have happened over the three weeks we cannot prevent those," Waltz said. "Animals. Birds. Lightning storms. All we can do is be there to respond to trouble and get it up and get it repaired because in all those instances where people have said their lights have blinked there's somebody out there without power."

Squirrels, birds, tree branches and lightning strikes that hit power lines can cause blinks. Vehicle collisions with poles also can cause blinks. Recent storms and accompanying lightning likely caused some of the outages, Waltz said.

"It's just one of those unfortunate things that just all seem to happen within these past couple weeks," Waltz said, adding that he wanted to let customers know his department pinpointed the causes.

Blinks occur when a device called a recloser, similar to a breaker, opens to stop faults or short circuits on a disturbed power line then quickly closes to restore the flow of electricity. The device can trip up to three times before it stops the flow completely, thus causing a major power outage.

Blinks last no more than two seconds, Waltz said.

"But unfortunately, you know, with today's new technology, everything picks up on just slight variations [in power]," Waltz said.

Customers usually know these blinks have occurred when clocks cut off and on.

"These blinks should have no impact on the electronic devices because it's just an off and on," Waltz said, adding that continual disruptions could cause more problems.

In a recent incident, a bird landing on a transformer by Pizza Hut on 14th Street caused the restaurant to lose power. Customers nearby and in the Riverton area, as "a result of the system working properly," experienced blinks instead.

The department continues to work on the lines as these brief outages occur in an effort to prevent longer power losses.

A new substation under construction on Va. 55 (Strasburg Road) should help alleviate the major power outages known to affect the Riverton area, town officials say. This substation may not prevent the blinks but should reduce the impact to the customers, Waltz said. The circuit to the Riverton area customers is twice as long as others in the town system and thus more vulnerable. The substation allows the department to break the circuit in half.

Customers who experience outages or have other concerns can contact the department at 635-3027.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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