Power outage covers Kenai Peninsula for hours

Update at 6 p.m:

When the power went out Friday morning for the first time at the Department of Veterans Affairs health clinic in Kenai it was a planned work outage. When it went out again 30 minutes later, the staff was a little surprised.

Shortly after 11:30 a.m. Friday morning a natural gas powered electrical generator in Nikiski shut itself down after sensing a fuel supply problem.

Homer Electric Association spokesperson Joe Gallagher said that malfunction in electrical production system shut down power to 32,000 customers and blacked out the entire Kenai Peninsula. It was a malfunction in a plant that had recently been retrofitted with a steam generator that came on line just a few months ago. 

Gallagher was not able to say if the new generator or the old had shut the system down.

The lack of Nikiski power was compounded by a downed electrical line near Girdwood, which would have otherwise supplied power to the Peninsula.

With the line cut at Girdwood, Nikiski was the only source, Gallagher said.

"It was just a unique situation," Gallagher said. "It islanded the Peninsula."

Power returned to Kenai by 1:37 p.m. and was restored to most of the Peninsula by 3:30, except for the customers pulling from a Funny River substation. Crews remained working there until power was restored by 4:30 p.m.

With power out across the area, controlled intersections reverted to stop and go traffic, save for those cars and truck that simply blew through the darkened cross-streets with little regard for established rules, including a Nikiski ambulance.

Before long, Kenai police chief Gus Sandahl was directing traffic through the snow-filled intersection of the Kenai Spur Highway and Bridge Access Road.   

Across the street at the Holiday gas station pumps were down as Mike Thomas sat waiting in his snowplow-rigged pickup. Thomas spent most of the morning plowing peoples driveways and access roads from the snowfall of the first winter storm free of charge when the power went out.

By the time the power went out, lunch was ready at the Kenai Senior Center. Just in case, it was served on paper. 

"We still delivered meals on wheels," said administrative assistant Kathy Romain.

Onsite manager Bill Sadler moved busy pinochle tables closer to the window for light and began preparing the place for a longer outage, should that have happened.

The boiler is gas fired, but the heat pumps are electric, said Romain. 

Saddler lit a gas fireplace, closed doors to conserve heat in important rooms, closed drapes where he could and started thinking about hunkering down. 

Teachers at Kenai High School switched from 21st century SMART boards to grease pens on white boards and kept going with instruction after the power stopped.

"It's all good in here, we don't need lights," said Spanish teacher Laura Sieverts.

She moved her class out into the hallway, near a bank of windows, and continued with the day's language lesson — altered to be based in games.

Three other classrooms of students headed for the school's library, full of natural light delivered through large windows high on the walls. Also in the 21-century, the library had no card-based catalogue as an option to locate or check out books.

Assistant librarian Jill Evans said everything but the books was electronic and down. She was willing to make an exception for her "hardcore readers." They would be allowed to take one book home for the night, as long as everything was written down and signed for.

"Otherwise they go through withdrawals," Evans said.

Principle Alan Fields said an emergency generator kept the phone working and the lights on at the school. 

"The plan is to finish the school day," Fields said. "The busses will be here at 2:15."

 Reach Greg Skinner at greg.skinner@peninsulaclarion.com

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Update at 3:39 p.m: 

The Homer Electric Association's Nikiski units have come back online according to a Chugach Electric Association media release.  

Power has been restored to Girdwood and south customers though HEA is still investigating what caused the power to go offline, according to the release. 

Several businesses in Kenai have had power restored and reports of power coming online in Nikiski have been made to the Clarion. 

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Power outtages have been reported in several locations on the Kenai Peninsula. 

Joe Gallagher, spokesperson for the Homer Electric Association Inc., said the power was down peninsula-wide due to a generation problem. 

The problem could take one to two hours to fix, he said. 

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