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Water spout causes Ocracoke power outage

Ocracoke Tideland EMC workers fix downed poles on the island Saturday night. Photo by Rachel O'Neal, Tideland EMC

Ocracoke Tideland EMC workers fix downed poles on the island Saturday night. Photo by Rachel O’Neal, Tideland EMC

Note: This is an update from today's earlier story, click here.
By Connie Leinbach

Heidi Jernigan Smith, Tideland Electric Member Cooperative, confirmed today (Sunday) that four electric poles, probably downed by a water spout, were the cause of Saturday night’s island-wide power outage from 7:30 p.m. until 4:13 a.m. today.  While businesses without generators were affected, ferry service was not affected by the outage.

Two poles were broken and two tilted significantly at an spot along Highway 12 north of the Pony Pens and south of the ferry dock, Smith said in an interview today.

“Every guy we had on the island responded,” she said.

“It was a big job made more difficult because the trucks kept getting stuck,” she said.

Based on the type of damage and amount of water, Tideland thinks a water spout came on land. Officials from the National Weather Service are coming to the island today (Sunday) to confirm, she said.

Photo by Rachel O'Neal, Tideland EMC

Photo by Rachel O’Neal, Tideland EMC

“The National Weather Service routinely calls Tideland (about weather conditions during storms),” she said.

For these kinds of emergencies, Smith said Tideland keeps lots of spare items on the island: poles, wire and transformers.

However, she explained that using the emergency generator, located down Odd Fellows Road, was never an option because it is not meant for that purpose.

The Ocracoke generator is a “peak shaving generator,” she said, and is used to help pick up the flow when the electricity coming down the lines from Hatteras exceeds the load limit.

It belongs to the North Carolina Electric Member Cooperative of Raleigh, and one of their employees must come to the island to turn it on.

It is used only when there are practically no visitors on the island since it does not have the capacity to power the entire island during high-capacity tourist season.

Moreover, the last time it was used was after Hurricane Irene (August 2011) when a mandatory evacuation got all of the visitors off the island, she said.

To power the island with the generator, the island is divided into grids and then service is rolled around in several-hour increments, she said.

More recently, Tideland tried to use the generator this winter (March) during a record cold snap when the power went out, but even then, there was too much load for it to work, she had said at the time. For an earlier article about this issue and “galloping power lines,” click here .

“People have more stuff plugged in these days,” she said.  “We used to run it a lot more when we had different power contracts.”

Hatteras also has such a generator owned by NCEMC, she said.

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1 reply »

  1. I am embarrassed that I was unaware of the extent of these constraints on “our” generator.
    Is this something that we should address, with an eye to expansion? This could prove useful in our efforts to enhance tourism, and to our benefit in other respects.