Steamboat Springs The average time Yampa Valley Electric Association customers were left groping for flashlights in the dark decreased significantly in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, according to a report from the local electric co-op.
Customers experienced an average electrical outage of 6.895 minutes per customer per month in that yearlong period. YVEA officials say the per-month outages averaged about 15 minutes in 2006 and 2007.
"We're always working to reduce our outage time, and it's something we're very cognizant of," YVEA President and General Manager Larry Covillo said. "That's a lot of what we are judged on in our general service from customers."
Covillo said many months experienced outages lower than the average, but several larger events - including at least three animal-caused outages - increased the average outage minutes considerably.
"That number (6.895 minutes per month) is probably a little higher than I'd like to see it, but it's a lot lower than that of a lot of months," he said.
The most recent report reflects average outages similar to those experienced in 2003 through 2005. In 2005, there were 7.7 outage minutes per customer per month. That number was just 6.2 minutes in 2004, and 8.6 minutes in 2003.
YVEA is installing new equipment that corrects outages faster, Covillo said. But no matter what the company does, he stressed there is no way eliminate outages.
"It's so darn unpredictable what causes the outages. You can't stop cars from hitting the poles and green boxes," he said. "You hope that you have done maintenance that will help stop things like snow and wind and ice and other weather-related issues, but there's nothing we can ever do about lightning."
According to Edison Electric Institute, an association of shareholder-owned electric companies based in Washington, D.C., weather- and storm-related problems are the most common cause of electrical outages.
The new equipment includes advanced re-closers, automatic breakers that are more sensitive and can restore power faster in the case of outages.
This year, several large outages have occurred in Steamboat Springs, including expensive outages and damage to equipment caused by two raccoons and one large bird, likely a magpie. Those three accidents cost the organization an estimated $1 million.
"We've gone five years with no problems, then three right in a row," YVEA line superintendent Bob Armstrong said after one of the animal-caused outages earlier this year.
YVEA serves 25,500 electrical meters through 2,850 miles of power lines. The coverage area extends from the Continental Divide in the east to 25 miles across the Utah border in the west, from Interstate 70 in the south to 10 miles across the Wyoming border in the north.
It includes Baggs, Wyo., Craig, Hayden, Steamboat and Yampa. It does not include Oak Creek, but the coverage area surrounds the South Routt town.
The association compiles an annual report of the cause and cost of each outage at the end of every calendar year. This year's report will be released in January, Covillo said.