There are many reasons that power outages occur. The most frequent reasons for ML&P outages include bird and animal contact with electrical equipment (ravens and squirrels usually); vehicle accidents with poles and transformer pads and fallen or cut trees into the line. In addition, the infrastructure is aging. Many parts were installed in the mid 1970s. While we do our best to maintain and upgrade the system; as well as keep up an aggressive tree-trimming program within our narrow rights-of-ways, equipment failure and tree damage occurs. ML&P's reliability record for the past decade, however, is exemplary. According to the industry standards developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, ML&P's 10-year track record shows continuous service to customers 99.99 percent of the time – what we call the "4-9s of reliability."
ML&P replaces existing overhead distribution lines with underground lines each construction season as required by municipal ordinance. Some lines, however, will never be buried, such as high-voltage transmission lines and areas where terrain or soil conditions are unsuitable. About 65 percent of ML&P's overhead distribution lines are already buried-more than in most cities-but the process is expensive and will take decades. Undergrounding does not necessarily mean power outages will not occur. Outages involving underground lines may mean longer delays for repairs in order to locate problems and excavate, especially if the area needs to be cleared of snow or frozen ground thawed.
While we know areas in which customers may be affected when a substation or distribution line trips, for example, we may not necessarily know that your power is out - especially if the outage is occurring on the line to your home, or on your side of the electrical equipment. Calls help our Dispatch Center isolate the extent of any problems that may be occurring on the grid. That's why customers are encouraged to call when they notice a power outage.
Emergency situations, by nature, are unpredictable. Restoration depends on what has caused the outage and how widespread the problem. Unless an outage is caused by something obvious, such as a car crashing into a pole or transformer pad, problems can take time to investigate in order to determine the cause and fix. During a severe winter storm or other major event, it's unproductive to try and guess how quickly power can be restored to each location. ML&P's priority always is to restore power as quickly as possible and to as many customers as possible with emphasis on safety and critical public infrastructure.
Because you are only charged for the electricity you use, there are no credits given to customers after an outage. You are never charged for power in an outage.
It depends on the nature of the problem and which lines are feeding your neighborhood. Sometimes the fault may be on the line to your home; other times we may have to isolate part of the line to work on a problem occurring elsewhere on the line. Or, your part of the neighborhood may be serviced by another line that hasn't been repaired yet.
ML&P follows best practices within the industry when dealing with power outages. Priority is always given to issues of safety and critical community infrastructure such as hospitals and other first responders. From there, repairs are made to affect the most number of customers to the least number. Depending on the situation, crews may start repairing transmission lines as they did in the windstorm of 2012. This is why most customers had power by morning. The next highest level is at the substation and main distribution line level. From there, repairs are made to lines branching off main distribution lines feeding individual neighborhoods and business districts; to pockets of customers and then to individual homes.
ML&P's Life Support Alert Program provides priority service to registered customers under normal outage conditions. Customers in the program are not confined to one area of our service territory, however, making priority service difficult in a widespread, catastrophic event such as the windstorm of 2012. ML&P cannot guarantee uninterrupted service and advises all customers with conditions requiring medical equipment, including hospitals and other medical facilities, to have emergency back-up power. We make every effort to respond to these customers as quickly as possible.
Our Power Outage Hotline is staffed 24/7. When the number of calls increases to a level beyond on-duty-personnel capabilities, our Call Center is activated. This automated system can handle hundreds of calls simultaneously - automatically recognizing your location and displaying it to Dispatchers who direct crews to respond to outages. If you aren't calling with the phone associated with your ML&P account however, the system will prompt you for your location. You may also leave a message if you have information about the outage and can request a call-back from ML&P, but neither is necessary for crews to begin responding.
During an emergency, such 2012's unprecedented fall windstorm, the system can become overwhelmed, as it is not financially feasible to keep staffing on hand necessary to handle tens of thousands of calls at once for these rare events. We do ask for customer's patience and for you to try your call again. But know that in any large event such as this, our crews are working as quickly as possible, 24/7, to restore power to you.
If the local phone system is intact, ML&P has the option of transferring the Call Center out-of-state. The 2012 windstorm event affected phones and Internet service city-wide, so we too experienced intermittent problems with our phones and website. ML&P's system isn't a "smart grid" per se, but we have technology that we used to help us determine areas of outage in this widespread emergency. By deploying meter reading personnel into the community, we were able to discover areas remaining without power once we were able to bring back the main transmission lines. So while it was a frustrating situation, ML&P was always aware of the magnitude of the problem and continued to work as quickly as possible to restore power to all. Since then, we have activated Facebook and Twitter social media sites to help connect with customers in an emergency, though we ask you not to post personal information there. Besides the obvious security issues, our phone system is designed to help us identify your location to serve you in the quickest manner possible.
Thank you for asking! But no, please don't stop crews to let them know your power is out-call our Power Outage Hotline instead. Crews may have to leave your area before power is fully restored for a number of reasons: An emergency may have occurred somewhere else that needs immediate attention. They may need additional parts to fix the problem at your location. Other areas may need repair before your area can be re-energized. They may need to change out crew members so that workers can rest in order for the restoration effort to continue safely. Stopping the crews just slows down the process of restoring power. We understand how frustrating it is to experience a power outage, especially during challenging weather. Fortunately, our outages are rare and are usually of short duration. We hope you know that ML&P crews work as quickly as they can, 24/7, until power is restored.