Our View: When more than just the lights go out | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: When more than just the lights go out

We've found multiple reasons to praise Yampa Valley Electric Association since Diane Johnson took the reins as general manager in June 2013. However, we think our rural electric cooperative needs to modernize the way it informs customers about power outages.

Johnson and the current YVEA board have moved more swiftly than we thought possible toward a goal shared with the larger community to relocate their headquarters out of the Yampa Street commercial district along the river to a site more suitable to light industrial activities.

And YVEA hasn't flinched at the mandate of Senate Bill 252 that it work toward providing a share of the electricity the coop provides from renewable sources. In response, YVEA has aligned with a private-sector company to develop a community solar garden in Craig.

And Johnson has been upfront with the community in describing the need for adopting rate increases for the first time in years in order to modernize infrastructure. What the community needs more than rates that never go up is a modern, efficient system that is more dependable and ready to adapt in the changing business climate. We have faith the YVEA board, with Johnson's leadership, will deliver.

All of the above are among the reasons why we're mildly perplexed about YVEA's failure to rapidly provide the public with detailed information when outages, like the one that happened Tuesday, inevitably take place.

When 9,000 YVEA customers lost power June 15, 2011, YVEA, in a different era, was able to let its customers know that day that the outage was due to a fault on a major transmission line owned by Xcel Energy. Affected customers were in a triangle form Baggs, Wyoming, to Elk Springs and Hayden. It lasted only 11 minutes.

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We all take electricity for granted until the power goes out. There was a time when Americans reached for a flashlight and settled in with a novel when the lights went out. But with society's increasing dependence on computers and digital tools, when the power went out this week, commerce ground to a halt.

Thanks to smartphones, we don't have to plug into a wall outlet to share information. We noted this week that since Tuesday's outage, YVEA has posted a heads-up to Milner area residents of an upcoming planned power outage that is needed to conduct maintenance. It will affect 62 customers from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Monday, and it includes people living on Routt County Road 179 and Saddle Mountain Drive. We suggest that you like YVEA on Facebook to have access to updates like this.

But YVEA customers shouldn't have to monitor the electrical coop's Facebook page to learn the details of an outage. They want to know how large an area is affected, the estimated time to get power back up and the reason for the outage. And we are all conditioned to want that information delivered to our devices, now.

Text message alerts are one avenue we would suggest. Tweets are another way to quickly reach a large segment of the local population. If YVEA emailed and tweeted the details of an outage to the newspaper, that information immediately would begin to post on a scrolling Twitter feed embedded in the Steamboat Pilot & Today's home page. The reporting staff also would post a breaking news alert at the top of the home page and update it as new information came in.

YVEA is doing so many things well right now — improving the dissemination of information during power outages is an easy nut to crack.

At issue

Electric coop needs to do more to inform customers on power outages.

Our view

YVEA is tackling far tougher issues, this one should be easy.