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Each summer, we experience an increase in calls from our members concerning “momentary interruptions”.  Many people refer to these as power surges, but they are actually not power surges.  They are brief interruptions in electrical power due to the operation of an automatic switch or circuit breaker.  The automatic circuit breaker operates because of an abnormal condition on the electric lines.  When this happens, your digital clocks blink or read 12:00. 

Today’s home contains many sensitive electronic devices that are often taken for granted.  The digital alarm clock in the bedroom, the microwave oven in the kitchen, the LCD television, the DVD player, and the personal computer in the home office are all susceptible to subtle changes in the flow of power.

CWEC’s electric distribution system is protected by a network of over 350 automatic circuit breakers that are designed to sense changes in current and momentarily interrupt the flow of power.  These interruptions may allow the abnormal change in current to correct itself.  The breakers will operate three times, and if the problem has not corrected itself, the breaker will remain open, cutting off the power to the area where the problem was detected.  This helps minimize the power interruption to a smaller area.  It also prevents a temporary problem from causing a permanent outage.

Causes for “momentary interruptions” can vary widely.  It could be a tree branch that falls on the electric line, a bird or other animal getting into a spot it shouldn’t, or any of a number of other reasons.  Each of these could cause an automatic circuit breaker to operate.  “Momentary interruptions” usually increase in the summer because of storms, tree growth, and because animals are more active.  They can also increase in the fall as birds begin to flock together in preparation for their journey south.  When they flock together they sometimes congregate on the electric lines.  This increases the probability of an accidental contact.  An unusual phenomenon that we have seen many times is when a large number of birds all land on one span of wire between two poles.  If enough birds land on the top wire, it can sag down and make contact with the bottom wire creating a temporary short and causing an automatic circuit breaker to operate.  Even if the wire does not sag enough to cause a short, when the birds leave, they typically all leave at the same time.  This will cause the wires to gallop or bounce up and down which can also cause the two wires to contact each other.  The picture below shows what can happen when too many birds land on the electric line.

Over the last several years, we have implemented an extensive brushing program and a line inspection program.  These have helped reduce the number of momentary interruptions, but it is impossible to prevent all of the causes for momentary interruptions.  We know that the biggest annoyance when this happens is having to reset all of your digital clocks.  There is a solution that can help with some of this.  Nearly all new digital clocks come equipped with a battery backup.  All you have to do is install the battery.  Other sensitive electronic equipment may also have built-in battery backup systems.  If you require constant electrical service, an uninterruptible power system (UPS) would be a wise investment.  CWEC can provide more information on a UPS.  Remember, momentary interruptions have always been present.  The increased use of digital equipment has just made them more noticeable.

For more information please call our office during normal business hours at 1-800-377-2932.

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