Rural Chugach Electric customers deal with ‘excessive’ winter outages

a sign
A welcome sign for Cooper Landing (Riley Board/KDLL)

Chugach Electric says there have been an excessive number of power outages this winter in the communities of Cooper Landing and Moose Pass.

Julie Hasquet, spokesperson for the utility, sent an email to 400 Chugach customers Friday morning. In it, she apologized for the rate of power outages in the rural communities.

“In the past several weeks, there has been an excessive number of outages in Cooper Landing and Moose Pass,” Hasquet said in an interview. “Some of them have been small, maybe 13, 17 members. Some of them have been the whole community.”

Hasquet said the email was meant to assure customers that the utility is paying attention to the rate of outages, and investigating the causes.

She said the primary culprit is the above-average snowfall that has impacted all of Southcentral Alaska this winter. Large trees on the peninsula will load up with snow, she says, and tip over into the powerlines, causing outages. When snow builds up on the power lines themselves then falls off, that can cause the lines to clap together, also triggering an outage.

Cooper Landing resident Vince Beltrami has experienced many of those outages.

“Since mid-November, in the following six week period, we had seven outages at our house, in that six weeks,” he said., “So, a little more than one per week, on average.”

Beltrami said each of those outages lasts a minimum of eight hours. He’s frustrated with Chugach for the unreliable service, and said he’s incurring new costs in gas and propane for his generator.

“We’re the end of the line,” he said. “And it just makes us feel like we’re last on the priority list.”

Beltrami thinks there’s an obvious solution to the outages: basing a maintenance crew in Cooper Landing. Chugach used to have linemen based in Cooper Landing that could respond quickly to issues. But now, crews respond from Anchorage, which is about a two hour commute.

“Almost all of the time is in getting the linemen here. When they get here, they’re the best linemen in the country, these guys, they know what they’re doing, and they get us back on as soon as possible,” he said. “But in the meantime, it’s all about response, and it’s just frustrating as heck.”

Amid the calls for more local crews, Hasquet says the utility is considering it.

“It’s an active discussion here at Chugach, we are thinking about it. There was a crew that lived there many years ago, and I think folks really liked that,” she said. “But at this point, we don’t have a crew, we don’t have folks who are willing or able to live down there, but I can assure that it’s an active conversation, it’s something that we’re continually talking about.”

Hasquet said Chugach sent crews to the peninsula last week to monitor the lines, look for problems, and try to prevent outage-causing hazards.

In the longer term, tree clearing and reliability improvements are on the docket. Hasquet said another possibility for speeding up response times would be storing more equipment on the peninsula.

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