Kyle Jensen / The Record — Clinton and Langley residents lost power after the Maxwelton substation was “overloaded.”

‘Unusual outage’ leaves thousands without power

Complications at the new Maxwelton substation left thousands on South Whidbey without power Saturday morning.

Electricity was restored to the affected Puget Sound Energy customers by 4:22 p.m. Saturday.

According to company spokesmen, 3,490 households were affected after the Maxwelton substation “locked out” at 8:47 a.m. Those affected were primarily in Clinton, but also in parts of Langley.

Considering there weren’t high winds, the outage initially left Puget Sound Energy officials scratching their heads.

“I talked to the electrical operations crew, and they said it was an unusual outage,” said Janet Kim, a spokeswoman for Puget Sound Energy.

It was later determined that the Maxwelton substation experienced an “equipment failure.” The reason behind that, according to Kim, was extra customers are getting their power from the Maxwelton substation as opposed to their regular substation.

Puget Sound Energy crews are currently updating the substation at Ken’s Korner in a six-month “reliability project” that will decrease the chances of outages during high winds. The customers typically served by the Ken’s Korner substation have been moved to the Maxwelton substation until the updates are completed. The customer transfer was predicted to go over smoothly. It didn’t go as expected.

Puget Sound Energy officials say cold weather may have been a contributing factor in the failure.

“When we started experiencing colder temperatures, there was even more work load on Maxwelton 14 (Maxwelton substation),” Kim said. “Coupled with the colder temperatures, it created a greater demand on that system, which contributed to the equipment failure.”

According to South Whidbey Fire/EMS Deputy Chief Jon Beck, the fire district didn’t receive calls for any reported downed trees or power lines on Saturday. The district was well-aware of the outages though; Beck says three South Whidbey fire stations lost power, including the communication facility. The facilities operated on generators, so service wasn’t disrupted.

Beck added the voltage was down at his home in the Cultus Bay Road area, running at 102 volts “for most of the evening.” On the Alert Whidbey Facebook page, a few even claimed their electricity was running as low as 95 volts. American outlets usually supply electricity between 110 and 120 volts, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The low voltage brought with it potential safety hazards.

“Circuits get overloaded and things can burn out, which can potentially cause a fire,” Beck said. “Older equipment is more subject to overheating. We didn’t have any calls related to that as far as I know.”