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Late February power outage in Willmar caused by equipment failure

An overnight power outage in Willmar on Feb. 28 was caused by equipment failure at the Willmar Substation. Willmar Municipal Utilities crews were able to get power back up within 40 minutes. Willmar Municipal Utilities is also asking that customers not call 911 to report an outage, but instead call the utilities.

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Willmar Municipal Utilities suffered a power outage on Feb. 28, impacting more than 3,600 customers for about a half hour overnight. The outage occurred at the Willmar Substation, impacting the transmission system.
West Central Tribune file photo

WILLMAR — All it takes is a single power outage to drop the annual power availability rating of Willmar Municipal Utilities out of the gold standard 99.999 percent. That power outage occurred on Feb. 28, only three days after the utilities and the Municipal Utilities Commission celebrated reaching those five 9s in 2021.

"We are not going to get those five 9s," in 2022, because that one outage had more customer minutes without power than all of 2021, said Jeron Smith, staff electrical engineer, at Monday's commission meeting. "It goes to show how difficult it is to reach that."

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Jeron Smith

According to Smith, the Feb. 28 outage, which occurred around 3:11 a.m., was caused by a failed piece of metering equipment at the Willmar Substation.

"It was on the transmission system, so it has a far-reaching effect," Smith said.

Safety measures caused that portion of the system to automatically de-energize to prevent further damage, knocking out power to 3,622 customers. All totaled there were 127,408 lost customer minutes, significantly more than the 2021 total of 27,704 customer minutes.

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"Fortunately, most of the town was probably sleeping," Smith said.

More Willmar Municipal Utilities
Willmar residents were asked by Willmar Municipal Utilities to reduce their consumption of electricity on Dec. 23, 2022, and responded by saving one megawatt of power in the hour after being asked.

Crews were able to isolate the fault and restore power within 37 minutes. Later in the day, the damaged equipment was removed and the transmission line was returned to service.

It could take up to 10 weeks to receive the needed piece to completely repair the substation, but until then Willmar Municipal Utilities is able to use the system, and staff is looking at other options.

One message Willmar Municipal Utilities would like to send to customers is what not to do if there is a power outage.

"If you lose power and you don't have an emergency, don't call 911," Smith said.

Smith said Kandiyohi County Dispatch was overwhelmed by calls during the outage, to the point they sent out an alert on the county's Smart911 emergency notification system . This caused some customers, those signed up for Smart911, to receive an alert, while other customers did not. The utilities currently does not have a customer notification system of its own, but is working on it.

"There was a lot of confusion," Smith said.

Willmar Municipal Utilities has an emergency and power outage phone number for customers to call, available all day, every day. It is 320-235-4422 .

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"Call us. Call Willmar Utilities," Smith said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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