Gas leak triggers chain of power outages spanning from Anchorage to the Mat-Su

Power transmission lines on poles in the foreground, with mountains in the distance.
Power transmission lines in Anchorage (Chugach Electric)

A gas leak at a Southcentral Alaska power plant caused a brief but widespread power outage early Thursday across the Railbelt’s power grid, as much of Alaska remains in the grip of a continuing subzero cold snap.

According to a Facebook post from Matanuska Electric Association, the outage began at about 12:15 a.m. Thursday when multiple engines shut down at the utility’s Eklutna Generation Station.

“It was discovered that one of the engines at the EGS power plant had a gas leak,” MEA officials wrote. “This triggered other safety mechanisms to shut down a majority of the engines at the plant. Everyone’s power was restored within 25 minutes of the initial plant outage.”

RELATED: Southcentral Alaska cold snap and surging natural gas demand put supply in question

The outage also affected Chugach Electric Association members, as the utility underwent a “load shedding event” in response to the MEA outage to avoid a blackout of the power grid. Chugach said all of its members had power restored by 1 a.m.

Chugach Electric spokeswoman Julie Hasquet said Thursday morning that a power generation unit at Chugach’s Southcentral Power Project in Anchorage also briefly failed during the outage. Power was deliberately cut to about 12,000 members spread across Chugach’s service area as other units were brought online, but the failed unit was fixed and back online within half an hour.

The subzero cold has also affected sewer systems in the Mat-Su region, with the City of Wasilla urging people to call local public works staff after about 20 sewer systems have frozen amid local temperatures falling to 20 degrees below zero.

Sandy Baker, a spokeswoman for the Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility, said Thursday that the utility hasn’t responded to any corresponding local rise in frozen sewage pipes. She urged residents to follow guidelines the utility has posted online to avoid frozen pipes on their properties, as well as knowing where the water shutoff is in their homes — since AWWU can perform shutoffs as a free service call during regular business hours, or for a charge after hours.

Anchorage’s forecast from the National Weather Service called for it to hit 20 below late Thursday, with temperatures remaining subzero through Saturday. Temperatures were expected to reach highs in the 20-degree range next week.

The city has seen two roof collapses in two days this week, as it digs out from a foot of snow overnight Sunday in a storm that marks Anchorage’s earliest recorded date for 100 inches of winter snowfall. The cold snap has shattered expectations for a warmer winter due to El Niño, also placing additional strain on homeless shelters.

a portrait of a man outside

Chris Klint is a web producer and breaking news reporter at Alaska Public Media. Reach him more about Chrishere.

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