We're not powerless
Officials were quick to blame last week’s Marion power failure on use of air conditioners, but hot weather was merely the straw that broke a mismanaged camel’s back.
Thursday was only the 16th hottest day in the past two years — not exactly unprecedented or unexpected. Though antiquated, the circuit that failed has enough capacity to power more air conditioners than probably exist in the entire city.
The problem is it operates at relatively low voltage prone to fluctuation and current loss, especially to nearby foliage. Trees don’t have to touch a line to siphon off power. On warm, humid days, just being in proximity can consume huge amounts of current — sometimes more than half.
Basically, Marion’s Circuit No. 2 is a tire with a slow leak. We need to fix it, which the city’s impending 12.47-kilovolt upgrade will do. Meanwhile it requires some babying.
Regularly checking the pressure in a leaky tire keeps it from getting so low it blows out. Monitoring how much power the city supplies versus how much it bills customers for would provide a pressure gauge of sorts. The city does that, but for its system as a whole, not just for this one troublesome circuit.
The equivalent of airing up the tire once it appears low involves sending crews to trim foliage away from power lines. The city did that, too, but in May, well before trees had fully leafed out and before two months of rapid growth in a rainy summer.
Blaming raccoons, a single isolated branch, or worse yet citizens just trying to stay cool may score political points, but it fails to address the underlying problem.
The good news is, once this leakage is taken care of, Marion’s astronomical electric rates could go down because the city won’t lose so much of the power it buys.
— ERIC MEYER
Last modified Aug. 5, 2021