Overhead distribution lines on the Cooperative's system normally carry 7200 volts of electricity and can kill instantly upon contact. Look up and stay clear of nearby power lines when using a ladder, pruning trees, cleaning a swimming pool, installing or removing an antenna, or carrying long pipes. Don't let children climb trees near power lines.
If you come across a downed power line, stay clear. If a power line comes down across your car, stay inside and warn others to stay away from the vehicle until rescue personnel arrive. If you must get out of the car, jump clear without touching the vehicle and the ground at the same time.
Teach children to recognize "Danger - High Voltage" signs, and not to play around substations or power lines. Electricity can travel down the strings of kites or balloons and cause shock or fires so these toys should only be used in open areas away from power lines.
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Members’ homes served by underground (secondary) power lines are liable for its ownership, including notification when work affecting underground lines is planned.
Before doing any digging, grading, trenching or other excavation work on your property, you need to know precisely where underground electric lines are buried. At a minimum before any digging in vicinity of underground power lines, shut the power off at the breaker located at the electric meter.
DIG-SAFE is a nationwide notification process that enables excavators to notify the appropriate utilities – electric and communications utilities, and cable TV companies – that might have underground cable in the area. Notifying all affected utilities individually could be very time consuming, but calling DIG-SAFE simplifies the process. DIG-SAFE will notify the utilities on its notification list of excavation plans, and the utilities will then have 48 weekday hours to send representatives to the site to mark the underground wires.
Caution: Not all private or public companies owning underground facilities (phone, cable, etc) are members of the DIG-SAFE program, and as such, they may not be notified of your intentions through this process. If you suspect there are underground facilities on your property, and the location of those facilities is not identified within a reasonable time period, you should contact the appropriate company directly.
Overhead distribution lines on the Cooperative’s system normally carry 7,200 volts of electricity, and can kill instantly upon contact. Look up and stay clear of nearby power lines when using a ladder, pruning trees, cleaning a pool, installing or removing an antenna, or carrying long pipes. Don’t let children climb trees near power lines.
If you come across a downed power line, stay clear. Don’t touch anything or anyone in contact with a downed line. If a power line comes down across your car, stay inside and warn others to stay away from the vehicle until rescue personnel arrive. If you must get out of the car, jump clear without touching the vehicle and the ground at the same time.
Teach children to recognize “Danger – High Voltage” signs, and not to play around substations or power lines. Electricity can travel down the strings of kites or balloons and cause shock or fires, so these toys should only be used in open areas, away from power lines.
Connecting and Disconnecting
The first step to take when the power goes out is to check your service panel or fuse box. If you have a service panel with circuit breakers, check each breaker to see if it has tripped. If all the breakers are in the “on” position (as opposed to “off” or “tripped”), turn off the main breaker, then switch it back “on”.
If you have a fuse box, make sure the fuses are all intact. Turn off the main power switch, then turn it on again.
If the power is still off, check the outside disconnect located beneath the electric meter. Not all meters have a breaker switch installed; if you do, flip it to “off,” then back to “on. ”
If your electricity is still off, check with neighbors to see if they are also without power. If they have power, there may be a downed line nearby. Do not try and locate the break yourself, but if you see a downed line, assume it is live and move away. Call the Co-op immediately at 1-800-932-5245 and let us know the location of the downed line.
If the downed line is in contact with a fence or rail, keep away. The power line could energize the fence for several thousand yards, creating a hazard along the entire fence line.
When you call, please be prepared to give your Map Location Number as it appears on your bill. This number helps to quickly identify the location of your individual electric service line.
Your Co-op has a list of priorities that we use to determine the best way to restore power after an outage. If it’s a localized interruption, like a downed line or pole, the priority is easy: send out a crew and fix it. But if we get widespread damage from a storm or other cause, we have to take it step by step. For example, if we restore the lines going to your home before we repair substations and main lines, you still won’t have power, and we’ll have to come back to test the lines before actually hooking you up. By restoring power from the distribution points down, we can actually restore your power faster.
In a major emergency, our first priority is to repair the substations that feed power to all our members, if that is where the problem exists.
If the interruption is on a main line carrying electricity from the substations to each community we serve, many members are affected. They are our next priority. Once power has begun to flow through these lines again, we can focus our attentions on the needs of our individual members.
These are the lines that bring power to smaller groups of members who live on the same road or share the same hillside. Your Co-op will restore spurs that serve the most members first, connecting the individual service lines that link spurs with individual homes and businesses.
Small Spurs and Individual Service Lines
Those lines that serve just one or two members will be restored next. Often, power is restored to these members as the main lines are re-energized. If there is still a problem on a spur or service line, some members may see their neighbor’s lights go on, while their power is still out.
The Co-op maintains a database of people with special power needs like life support equipment or emergency services, like police, rescue, ambulance, and fire stations. The Co-op will make every effort to prioritize your needs. Members with these special requirements are encouraged to install backup power sources.
A home emergency kit can be invaluable in an outage, especially if power is likely to be out for some time. We all hope that any outage is short lived, but preparing for longer interruptions is time well spent. Here are some ideas for your Kit:
- Portable radio
- Spare batteries
- Matches or a lighter
- Wind up or battery alarm clock
- Safety Pins
- Ziploc type plastic bags
- Moist towelettes (baby wipes)
- Freezer ice packs – keep them in the freezer all the time so they’re ready to use
- Large cooler or ice chest
- Sleeping bags or blankets
- Warm, dry clothing
- Duct tape – the all purpose tape!
- First Aid Kit (see sidebar, right)
- Personal hygiene supplies
- Baby supplies, including diapers
If you know a storm with the potential to cause outages is coming, fill containers with water, including your bathtub(s). Separate water for drinking from that for other uses. Flush toilets sparingly with a bucket of water. Have the means to purify water without electricity.
Meals will be a challenge, so plan on a 3 to 5 day supply for each member of the family, including family pets. These can include:
- Canned meats, vegetables and fruits
- Freeze dried meats, vegetables, fruits, and prepared meals
- Instant foods
- Foil pouch products
- Infant foods and needs
- Pet foods
In addition, the following will make life without power easier:
- Manual can opener
- Disposable plates, cups, and eating utensils
- Camp stove and fuel
Your Co-op also recommends:
- A fire extinguisher, especially if you are relying on a wood stove or fireplace for warmth.
- Keep your car’s tank full of gasoline whenever possible.
In Case of Longer Outages…
If your power is going to be off for hours or even days, here are some additional precautions you and your family can take:
- Turn off and unplug electrical equipment. Leave one light on inside so you can tell when power is turned back on.
- Turn on an outside light that is visible from the road so that Co-op crews can see that your power has been restored.
- Close all doors, windows, and curtains, even doors between rooms. This will help your home retain heat in cold weather.
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer closed tightly. If you’re not sure food is safe to eat, use the old rule of thumb: ‘When in doubt, throw it out.’
- Know how to manually override your electric garage door opener.
- Conserve water. Water will keep hot in your water heater’s tank for up to 3 days.
- Keep warm in layers of clothing and blankets. Wool is especially warm.
- Keep active.
- Use the fireplace wisely and safely. Do not leave the damper open when not in use.
- Pets like tropical fish and birds are very sensitive to temperature changes. They will require special care.
- Your phone will probably work – the telephone company uses a separate, low voltage power supply. Use it to keep in touch and stay informed.
We saw with the January 1998 ice storm, Hurricane Floyd in September 1999 and major storms since then that nature can overwhelm electric systems. Hundreds of thousands of Vermont residents were without power for days – in some cases, weeks.
These storms caused unusually severe outages. But even shorter outages can cause serious problems, such as loss of heat and consequent freezing of water pipes, not to mention inconvenience.
For homeowners who want to provide themselves with “electric insurance,” there are two main approaches to backup power: You can buy either a generator or a Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) battery-based system. Choosing between these alternatives depends in part on which systems in your home are most important to keep running in the event of a power failure. Your choice may also be affected by cost and the differences between the technologies that run these backup power devices.
A generator can be a portable unit (though larger units are typically mounted in place), driven by an internal combustion engine that runs on gasoline, diesel fuel or propane. The generator is connected to the home’s electric service panel by some type of transfer switch.
The size (maximum output) of your generator, and therefore the costs you might incur in purchasing, installing and operating it, will be determined largely by the electric “loads” – for example, heating systems, water pumps and refrigerators – you plan to use it for.
Sizing a generator properly is critical for reliability. Our research and experience have lead to several conclusions about generators. First, it must be understood that maintaining a generator can become a year-round obligation, even though the generator most likely will be used only for short periods. In Vermont, electric companies experience an average of less than 10 hours of outage per customer per year.
Compare that to what a generator manufacturer recommends for the maintenance of a stand-by residential-size unit: run the generator for 2 hours each month, with an electric load of approximately half of its capacity. So just for maintenance (and warranty considerations), the units must be run 24 hours a year, or more than twice the actual need for backup.
For gasoline and diesel generators, the fuel must be kept fresh, so fuel stabilizers are recommended for extended periods of inactivity, and oil must occasionally be changed. Also, generators produce exhaust, which must in all circumstances be vented outside of the building. An additional factor to be considered – and this varies with the size and type of generator – is noise. Siting the unit to minimize the effects of noise on the owners is an important decision affecting satisfactory use.
- Fuel: Typically, a generator runs on gasoline, diesel fuel or propane. Availability and cost of each of these fuel types should be considered when shopping for a generator.
- Maintenance: Maintaining a generator can become a year-round obligation, even though the generator most likely will be used only for short periods. For gasoline and diesel generators, the fuel must be kept fresh, so fuel stabilizers are recommended for extended periods of inactivity, and oil must occasionally be changed.
- Ventilation: Another critical factor is ventilation. Since generators burn fuel, they produce exhaust, which must in all circumstances be vented outside of the building.
- Noise: The amount of noise produced by a generator varies with the size and type of the unit. Siting the unit to minimize the effects of noise on the owners and to provide adequate ventilation for exhaust are important decisions affecting satisfactory use.
- Starting Mechanism: There are three options for the engine’s starting mechanism:
- manual start with a pull cable (like starting a lawnmower)
- electric start (which is done by pressing a start button connected to a battery)
- an automatic, or “smart” transfer switch that can tell when power has been lost and can turn the generator on
The transfer switch is the point where the emergency power source is connected to the home’s electric system and control panel. Both a generator and a UPS require a transfer switch, but with a UPS the switch is always automatic.
Did you know a transfer switch can save the life of your Co-op's line workers?
Generators can pose a hazard for line crews unless there is a properly installed “double-pole, double-throw” transfer switch that ensures that power produced by a generator does not back feed onto the utility’s electric system. A worker repairing a damaged power line could be electrocuted by a charge carried over wires he thought were dead.
With a generator,there is a choice between a manual unit or an automatic switch. The automatic feature requires connection between the generator and a battery to initiate the automatic start. When the power system is operating normally, the battery is kept charged by the electricity from the utility’s system. An automatic system could add up to $1,000 to the cost of a generator.
Please let us know if you do own and use a generator so that we can make a note of it on your account record. The line worker’s greatest fear is the generator s/he doesn’t know about, which could energize the line unexpectedly and put his/her life in peril.
Members installing electric generators are required to notify the Co-op about their equipment, per policy bulletin #37. The Co-op will inspect generation equipment to assure compliance with safety codes.
The UPS is a unit that includes a battery (or batteries), a charging device, and an inverter, which changes the stored 12-volt direct current (DC) electricity to the 120-volt alternating current (AC) electricity that households use. The UPS most commonly has been used for computers or other electronic equipment that must not lose power at all. A UPS “senses” when power supplied by the electric utility is being lost, and then provides the energy to keep the equipment running.
A new breed of UPS now on the market performs this same function for larger home systems such as refrigerators, water pumps, furnaces and lighting. As with generators, properly sizing a UPS is critical to its reliability. This whole-house system is controlled by computer circuits that monitor the status of power provided by the utility. If the power fails, the controller waits briefly (you set the time) before automatically switching over to battery storage. The delay is to avoid making the jump to backup power when the grid is just experiencing a momentary loss of power, not a full-scale interruption.
The battery system remains active until power from the grid is fully returned. In the case of an unusually prolonged outage, battery power can probably sustain a house for a couple of days, depending on the electric load it is being asked to supply. If more storage is required, additional batteries can be easily added. When power returns, the device then transfers automatically back to grid power, and the charger replenishes the batteries.
There is very little maintenance required with properly installed UPS. When fully charged, the batteries are ready to work when the need arises, whether the homeowner is present or not. Owners of vacation homes could install a system to let them know when the power has gone off and that the UPS is doing its job.
Electrical surges from storms, accidents, and other grid disturbances may be gradually damaging your household appliances and electronics. Many repair shops will cite surges as a primary cause of premature product failure. You rely on your appliances, electronics and heating system controls daily – why not take steps to protect them against external surges? HOW? With the Co-op whole-house surge suppressor. A device installed at your meter suppresses external surges before they reach your valuable appliances, protecting them from damage, and saving money buy avoiding repair or replacement.
Surges are also generated inside your home. Appliances can create surges within the home that can damage sensitive electronics. While the meter base unit protects against external surges, select from a range of plug-in devices to protect your TV, stereo, computer, phone and other electronics from internal surges. Many of these devices also protect against external surges coming over phone and cable TV lines.
With all backup power devices, the most important factor of all is protecting your utility’s line workers. Generators can pose a hazard for line crews unless there is a properly installed switch that enables you to see, when the generator is in operation, that there is no electrical connection between circuits connected to the generator and the power company’s electric lines. A UPS system has an automatic transfer switch.
Like water, electricity follows the path of least resistance. That means that under some circumstances the power produced by a generator or UPS could feed back into the utility’s system. A worker repairing a damaged power line could be electrocuted by a charge carried over wires otherwise believed to be de-energized. Your Co-op needs to know if you own and use a generator so be sure to let us know if you install one.
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