Did you experience a power outage during last week's event?

Did you experience a power outage during last week’s event?

Here’s What You Should Know

If you didn’t experience a power outage last week, you were in the lucky minority!

Over half of Flathead Electric Co-op (FEC) members lost power for a period of time – some for longer than others – during this historic storm. Of the approximately 73,000 meters on your Co-op’s electric system, over 41,500 (or 56.8%) of those meters were impacted. Crews responded to nearly 400 separate outages – the largest event in Co-op history in terms of number of outages.

Power was restored to all members as quickly and safely as possible, given the expansive system damage.

Why don’t you have more linemen for major storm events?

Increasing our specialized workforce to prepare for rare but large events would be cost-prohibitive because the majority of the time when we’re not responding to major outage situations, we would be paying for more employees than we need. Instead, to help keep rates low, we have mutual aid agreements allowing us to bring in reinforcements when needed. FEC crews serve others in return, under our principle of “Cooperation Among Cooperatives.”

Why did last week’s storm cause so many outages?

Fallen tree on power line after snow stormThis outage was a highly unusual situation.

The November 2 storm brought us very heavy, wet, spring-like snow. Our electric system easily handles this kind of snow in the spring, when the trees are solidly frozen into the ground and there are no leaves remaining on them to interfere with lines. Last week, we were coming off one of the warmest Octobers on record, meaning trees were still laden with most of their leaves, and not frozen into the ground. This (thankfully rare) combination caused widespread tree damage across the greater Flathead Valley and resulted in an astonishing number of downed trees and power lines.

Why don’t you trim more trees around power lines?

We trim what we legally can.

We want you to know that we trim every tree and branch legally available to us in our right-of-ways in an effort to prevent outages. We can only trim those and the trees that property owners allow us to trim. If you’ve declined our request to trim your trees in the past, we invite you to change your mind.

We have two full-time, year-round tree trimming crews, plus more contract arborists that we call on for additional help, as we did during this outage restoration. We also have a very deliberate plan for tree trimming - it is not done randomly, but by design. More questions about trees and power lines? Check out our Tree Trimming center here.

Are you going to come back and clean up downed trees?

In our efforts to restore power to all members as quickly as possible, we don’t do tree cleanup onsite nor do we come back to do cleanup following a major weather event. Circling back to do that cleanup would put us way behind on our system work which helps make our system more reliable and resilient to these types of events. We simply don’t have the manpower or resources to manage this scale of tree cleanup effort.

We can refer members to other tree services who can assist – we have several local tree services that assist in cleanup to chip trees and brush and haul off debris.

Tree Care Providers:

Note: Your Co-op does not endorse, recommend, or screen any of the listed tree services.

If you would like to be added to this list, please contact us.

Why don’t you put more power lines underground?

We do, every year. Over half of our 5,000 mile system is already underground, and last year, we added another 71.42 miles of underground lines and eliminated 10.63 miles of overhead lines.

However, replacing the entire overhead system with an underground system isn’t practical – it’s not just the cost (which would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and would significantly raise electricity rates), it’s also that outages on underground lines can be much harder to find and much more challenging to repair. Finally, there are many places in our area where it is impossible to put lines underground, due to geologic considerations, among others.

Is it OK to ask a lineworker for an update if I see them working during an outage?

Lineworker in a bucket truck working on a power line. Let them work. If you see a Co-op crew working in your area, please don't approach them or ask them for outage updates. They have a dangerous job, please let them focus.No. You wouldn’t interrupt a heart surgeon doing their job, would you? Our crews are working with high-voltage electricity, which is extremely dangerous. Please give them distraction-free space so that they can perform their jobs safely.

The more you stop and talk to them, the less of their job they can do.

Instead of asking a lineworker for updates, please visit our Outage Center.

To send crews your appreciation, reach out to your Co-op here: Get in touch!

Are you going to pay for my spoiled food?

While FEC tries to provide electricity to people as reliably as possible, periodic outages are inevitable with the extreme weather conditions we experience in Northwest Montana. Individual damages incurred by “Acts of Nature” aren’t covered by our insurance, which is another reason we encourage members to have plans in place to keep themselves (and their personal property) safe in case of power outages.

Is there a text messaging service I can sign up for, proactively?

Yes! We offer two different text services, and it’s important to understand the difference.

Option 1: You can proactively sign up for automatic text messages that tell you when your power goes out and when it is restored. These automatic messages are not sent in real-time, as staff first verifies the outage, and the restoration, before sending. Because they are sent after the fact, these text messages do not offer an estimated time of restoration (ETOR) nor do they give a cause of power loss. These automatic messages may be helpful to those members who are out of the area for an extended period and want to know if they have experienced an outage.

  • If your mobile number is associated with your FEC account, you can sign up for automatic text messages by texting “Flathead” to the number 85700. (Please note: only one mobile number is allowed per member in this system. You may need to call us during  business hours  at (406) 751-4483 to verify that your cell number is correctly associated with your membership in order for this service to function properly.)

Option 2: When your power goes out, you can choose to sign up for  Outage Map  text messages (meaning these are not automatic, you have to sign up during each outage) that may offer you a cause, an ETOR, and a notification when power is restored. These non-automatic text messages are helpful during outage situations, but they are not perfect, as dispatchers are not always able to update the Outage Map in real time during large outages.

You can choose to use either service or both.

Thank you

We understand that this was an extremely frustrating and inconvenient outage. Your Co-op’s staff works 365 days a year – for 85 years now! – to prevent outages like this one, but they do happen. We thank you, sincerely, for your patience and support.

Thank you to the many members who sent kind words of appreciation and encouragement to Co-op crews via e-mail and mail, allowing staff to safely work uninterrupted.

Thank you to our incredible employees, who faced challenge after challenge, but kept their heads down and didn’t stop working until all 56,000+ members on the system were online.

Thank you to the 9-1-1- dispatchers and first responders who kept members and crews safe while resolving emergency situations and allowing restoration work to take place.

Thank you to the many mutual aid workers who brought the cooperative spirit of assistance from their own co-ops: Glacier, Missoula, Ravalli, and the Bonneville Power Administration. Thank you to our contract workers for answering the call to help during a nasty, cold storm: Rocky Mountain Contractors, Aspen Urban Forestry, Associated Arborists & Asplundh.

Finally, thank you for being a member-owner of your Cooperative. To learn more about Flathead Electric Cooperative, visit our About My Co-op page. To visit our Outage Center (bookmark it!), visit our Outage Center page.

Image from the storm:

Flathead Electric Cooperative

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