October 2017 LightREADING Newsletter

Download: October 2017 LR Web (PDF)


Power Outages 101
Q&A with your Co-op

Q. What causes power outages?Severe thunderstorms are a frequent cause for power outages.

A. Although Flathead Electric Cooperative (FEC) must occasionally shut power down for system maintenance, most outages are unplanned and unavoidable. Of the unplanned outages to date this year:

Squirrels are one small animal that can cause damage to powerlines resulting in outages.

  • 201 can be attributed to weather related events such as wind causing trees and branches to fall on lines.
  • 44 were human-caused. 17 vehicle vs. power pole incidents have been reported this year, along with accidental dig-ins to underground power lines, vandalism, etc.
  • 530 were caused by animals. Squirrels are the usual suspects, but other animals cause interference as well.

Q. Why does my power sometimes blink?Trees can grow in to powerlines causing outages.

A. A “blink” (a brief momentary interruption in service) is a normal part of a power delivery system that serves an important purpose. For instance, despite our best efforts to keep trees near our lines trimmed on a regular basis, strong winds can cause those trees to make contact with wires. When that happens, your lights may dim or you might lose power for a few seconds as the system operates to identify and clear the problem. Without this protective equipment, members could experience a prolonged outage instead of just a blink.

Q. How is power restoration prioritized?

A. FEC energizes just shy of 65,000 meters along the almost 5,000 miles of line it has on the system. That’s a lot of folks and a lot of ground to cover. The main goal is to restore power safely to the greatest number of members in the shortest time possible. Transmission lines supply power to substations (which then distribute power to thousands of members), so these lines would receive first priority if affected by an outage. Next, crews would make any needed repairs at those substations, followed by repairing transformers and distribution lines.

Q. I’m out, but my neighbor isn’t. Why?

A. Homes in a neighborhood may be fed by different service lines and/or the cause of the outage might be originating in the home and be unrelated to activity on the side of FEC.

When possible, power is rerouted to neighborhoods to reduce the length of an outage.

Q. Why isn’t my power on 100% of the time?
Incredibly, Flathead Electric supplies power to members 99.97% of the time.
A. In a perfect world (and with constant cooperation from Mother Nature), FEC would be able to provide power 24/7 without interruption. In reality, we come pretty close. FEC has an “up time” of 99.97%. Considering some of the challenges in our area with the dense trees and harsh weather, we’re proud to provide such reliable power to our members.

Q. How long does it take to restore power following an outage?

A. It depends. Removing a branch from a line is quick and relatively simple. Replacing a broken power pole or digging up buried cable to find and repair a fault is a much longer process. Outages can last from minutes to hours, even days depending on the severity of a storm or other event. Your location also affects the time it takes to get power restored. If you live in a rural area, it might take FEC crews an hour or more just to arrive on location (especially if they need to leave their home in the middle of the night). Then, they need to inspect equipment, determine the cause, and develop a plan to restore power safely. Sometimes members call within a few minutes of their power going out wondering when it will be back on. In reality, our crews haven’t had a chance to arrive on scene yet, let alone figure out what’s causing the problem.
One thing that is consistent, however, is that Co-op crews, often braving dangerous weather conditions and working through the night, do everything they can to restore power as quickly and safely as possible. It’s a critically important, dangerous job that FEC crews take very seriously.

Safety (yours and ours) is our top priority.

Some restoration efforts require more equipment and time for repairs.While Flathead Electric Co-op likes to restore power as quickly as possible after an outage, it is even more important that our employees go home safely to their families at the end of the day. Our crews are trained to take the time and safety measures they need before making repairs to electrical equipment.

Q. What should I do if my power goes out?

A. You should report it to the Co-op by calling 406-751-4449. FEC is staffed 24/7 to assist with outages. While we understand the inconveniences caused by outages, please be patient while our crews work to determine the cause of the outage then work to restore it as quickly and safely as possible. It’s also important to keep perspective. Many of our members can recall a time (not that long ago) when electricity wasn’t a given, but rather a luxury enjoyed by a select few. Oh, and if you have flashlights or candles on hand during an outage (and maybe a little whimsy in your heart) you could try making a few shadow puppets on the wall while you wait for your power to be restored.


October is National Co-op Month

Flathead Electric Co-op is joining the nation’s 29,000 cooperative businesses in recognizing National Cooperative Month in October. Cooperatives are businesses owned and operated by their members, and thirty million Americans (more than a third of the country) are members of some type of a co-op.

There are 185 various co-ops in Montana, and a dozen in the Flathead County and Libby areas of FEC’s service territory. A recent survey found that the vast majority of consumers believe businesses owned and governed by their members are more trustworthy than those that are not. In a nutshell, cooperatives put people first and are motivated to meet their members’ needs.

Members are invited to stop by sometime during the week of October 16-20, to enjoy a cookie as we celebrate National Co-op Month. The main headquarters of FEC is located at 2510 Hwy 2 East in Kalispell. Happy Co-op Month!


Energy Share needs your contribution

Energy Share of MontanaThis program provides bill assistance to families facing an unexpected financial emergency. Additionally, Energy Share runs a refrigerator replacement program for eligible seniors and disabled people who own their homes. Donations are tax deductible. For more information, call FEC at 406-751-4483 or visit Energy Share.

Are you having difficulty paying heating bills?
Qualifying members can receive assistance with a portion of their home heating costs though the LIEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program) administered by Community Action Partnership (CAP) of NW Montana. For information, call CAP at 406-758-5433 or 1-800-344-5979.



Scholarship opportunities available

Basin Electric Power Cooperative (BEPC) and the Montana Electric Cooperatives Association (MECA) offer scholarships to children of Flathead Electric Co-op members each year. Applications are accepted in October. For more information or to apply, visit Scholarships.

MECA and BASIN Application


Your Co-op Connection of the Month
Get to know the people working for you

Al Thorson
Operations Superintendent

What do you bring to your Co-op?

I have 28 years of experience in trouble-shooting – determining the cause and fix to an electrical problem – as well as building and maintaining electric systems for Flathead Electric Co-op. I began my career in 1989 working in construction, then was hired as a journeyman lineman at the Co-op in 1997. I worked as a lineman and foreman until being promoted to a supervisory position in 2006. I come by my profession naturally. My father worked for Montana Power for 35 years, and my brother works in the power industry as well. It seems to be in the genes.

What’s the best thing about working at FEC?

My coworkers have become like family, and it brings me great pleasure to work with members who appreciate the service that the Co-op provides. It makes my day when we get to restore service after an outage, and it’s icing on the cake when members reach out to thank us for it.

If you had a super power, what would it be and why?

I would have the power Mother Nature has. Few people get to experience the destruction that nature can cause like a lineman does. But I would use my power for good. I would calm the winds, lighten the snow, keep critters away from power poles and lines, and do anything else I could to prevent interruptions in electrical service for our members.


Roundup Report: Hunter Safety Vests

A $3,780 grant from Roundup for Safety will help keep young hunters safe in the field. Jim Vashro, who applied for the grant through the Flathead branch of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, says the money will go toward the purchase of orange safety vests for hunter education students.

“The program educates and certifies students in safe gun handling, outdoor survival skills and hunting ethics. About 1,000 students each year are hosted in the program in our area each spring and fall, with both classroom teaching and a field day. Instructors are trained volunteers with hundreds of years of combined experience in the program.”

Vashro says hunter orange vests have been proven to reduce the risk of injury or death due to misidentification of targets while hunting. The advent of Hunter Education in 1957 and the requirement for hunter orange has dramatically (by nearly 90%) reduced accident rates in Montana.

September 2017 Projects Funded

  • Kalispell Senior Citizens Center
    Smoke Detectors $750
  • Calvary Lutheran Church
    Defibrillators $2,000
  • Whitefish School District #44
    Ropes Course Safety Equipment  $1,500
  • Flathead Rapids
    Goal Anchors $936
  • Flathead Booster Club
    Defibrillator Visibility, Cabinet and AED supplies  $500
  • Kalispell School District
    Rehabilitation Equipment  $4,495

New Roundup for Safety Grant Application Process

All applications for Roundup for Safety funds should now be submitted online.