In spite of what the Overton Power District representative Jon Jensen said, the last massive power outage in Mesquite in January lasted 13 hours, not the eight that he claimed. A previous outage in March 2017 lasted 17 hours.
When introducing an agenda item at the Mesquite City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct 22, regarding power outages, City Manager Aaron Baker said city officials listened to citizen complaints in January about the hardships they endured. He also said the city is developing a plan it will use in future outages and emergencies to address difficulties local residents may have.
Perhaps the biggest bombshell thrown out during the extended council discussion about protecting citizens came at the end when City Attorney Bob Sweetin said the city has the right to capture all of the electrical transmission lines in an “emergency condemnation” and obtain power from sources other than OPD.
Prior to that, OPD said they couldn’t guarantee any assistance for emergency transmission of power during a prolonged outage.
Mesquite Fire Chief Jayson Andrus presented a “first-step” plan that addresses the responsibilities city agencies will have with a reminder than OPD has primary responsibility for any outage. Andrus described the plan as a “living document” that will continually change and be updated as needed. His plan was organized into two sections based on outdoor temperatures at the time of an outage or emergency.
One section deals with agency responses if temperatures exceed 90 degrees with an expected time frame of six hours or more and one section if temperatures are below that threshold with an expected duration of more than eight hours. Each section has requirements that would be implemented on a scheduled timeline.
Andrus listed five locations that have priority for emergency power delivery: Mesa View Regional Hospital, designated shelters and places of refuge for citizens, a grocery store, a gas station and the Mesquite Detention Center. The Mesquite Recreation Center is listed as the number one shelter/refuge in the city.
“One of the most important requirements citizens told us they wanted was communications from officials during the outage,” Baker told the council. “They want to make sure they are getting updates in a timely fashion.”
Baker said the city would provide updates primarily through emergency communications systems that feed text message alerts to individual cell phones. Many of the updates would be a repeat of OPD alerts since it has primary responsibility for status updates. Secondary channels will come through other social media.
Baker presented options for power supplies that the city would operate including natural gas generators, solar generation and batteries. He said the city is working with Mesa View Hospital to provide oxygen replenishment and cell phone recharging stations for residents.
Councilman Brian Wursten addressed the ability to bring limited power in the “back door” from Dixie Escalante to supply a small number of locations. Jensen said some power was brought in to Mesquite during the January outage through an existing line between Mesquite and Littlefield, Arizona.
Wursten said “it’s my understanding that Overton Power is not willing to sign off on this plan that we’re looking at.” Jensen said OPD wants to partner with the city but that it would not sign a contract binding it to provide emergency power.
Councilman George Rapson asked Jensen if OPD was working with Dixie Escalante to contractually provide power during outages. Jensen said OPD has a verbal agreement with Dixie Escalante and Deseret Power in Utah to provide back-up emergency power but each situation would be different and OPD couldn’t sign a contract under the circumstances.
Rapson said he agreed with Wursten that the city needs to provide alternative sources of generated emergency power independent of OPD or other power suppliers.
Rapson spoke about the city’s “emergency condemnation” clause in the city charter that allows the city to contract privately with power suppliers during an outage.
Sweetin said the city has discussed the clause with Dixie Escalante since the January outage. “After the mayor declares an emergency, the city takes over the power lines and receives power from another source. It is not terribly difficult to do. It’s done all over the place.”
“It would be smart for us to get going on this kind of agreement if OPD isn’t going to,” Rapson said.
“That’s accurate,” Sweetin responded.
During public comment, former Councilman Dave Ballweg said “OPD wants to maintain its monopoly even in these discussions. You’re trying to make up a plan and you don’t have any basis of facts. OPD needs to hire an engineering firm to determine the critical points of failure in the system and how to address those.”
Ballweg owns a multi-national, multi-million-dollar company, LoadTec, that designs and manufactures electrical power supply units and electrical system testing equipment.
“OPD clearly has no idea where its critical points of failure are,” Ballweg said. “Before you can make a plan, you need to know the problem you’re trying to solve. That takes an engineering study. You can’t guess at this stuff. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done on this power grid. If OPD is not going to hire an engineering firm, then the city needs to do that. OPD will obfuscate and mislead you about power because you don’t know anything about it. They’ve done it for years.”
“Just for the record, I couldn’t agree with Mr. Ballweg more,” Rapson said.
No council action was taken since the issue was presented for discussion only.