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Secretive policies lead to massive outage

Published On: Dec 05 2013 07:11:23 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 06 2013 12:43:31 PM CST

What went wrong yesterday? Local News 8's Luke Jones is asking the tough questions.

FIRTH, Idaho -

What went wrong in the massive power outage that left more than 50,000 power customers without electricity Wednesday?

Earlier, Rocky Mountain Power said one of the circuit breakers at its substation near Firth was recalled and had to be taken out for maintenance. But Local News 8 is told that this alone shouldn't have caused an outage.

"That was scheduled in advance, and that work had actually been started before yesterday,” said Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Dave Eskelsen.

"Between about 4 and 5 in the morning, as we always do, work to balance our generation transmission system to keep it in balance,” Eskelsen said.

But that's where the utility encountered problems.

Rocky Mountain is required to keep a certain amount of power in reserve in case of an emergency or increased demand. When they start running into that power reserve, they have to shut the system down to avoid greater outages.

"The outage was really required by the operational rules that we operate the transmission system under,” Eskelsen said.

These are standards that every power company in North America has to follow. They require each company to come up with its own rules that dictate how it will respond in certain situations.

But what exactly do these rules say? Local News 8 searched far and wide and couldn't find a single copy. Eskelsen said there are national security implications with making the rules public.

"Information about the operation and control of power plants and transmission systems is held a little bit more closely by companies under the direction of state and federal law enforcement and Homeland Security," said Eskelsen.

In another twist, Local News 8 has learned that the people who run the Palisades Dam were asked to increase water flows to almost four times the normal level in an effort to boost power supplies.

Local News 8 hasn't been able to figure out exactly when this occurred or if it points to a supply problem for local power companies.

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