Power outage last Sunday lasts almost 5 hours

By Robert Morales —

The lights went out on Sunday night at around 6:30 p.m. and didn’t return until about 11 p.m.

This is the second time in the last two weeks that the Van Horn area has experienced a power outage. It was a typical June thunderstorm – lightning and thunder and rain. What was unusual about this storm was that when the power went out, the evening was breezy and not hot and humid as is usually the case.
Of course, that is small comfort to the residents who would prefer to sit and watch TV and enjoy dinner in air conditioning.

“Sunday night’s storm brought down a transmission pole in the McNary area that caused an outage to approximately 2,700 customers in Sierra Blanca, Ft. Hancock and Van Horn,” said Marybeth Stevens, an El Paso Electric executive.

El Paso Electric has made a concerted effort to make some fundamental infrastructure changes during the last few years, namely by changing out old wooden poles to metal poles. Clearly, implementing these changes takes time – and capital – for the utility company.

The Van Horn Advocate conducted interviews with several business owners during the outage, and there was clearly frustration and anger about the loss of revenue. Interestingly, the larger retail outlets such as Hampton Inn, Love’s and Pilot did not have a generator. Love’s and Pilot had some electricity, but not at full capacity.

Until El Paso Electric completes the changeover from wooden poles to metal poles, power outages will continue during the summer. It appears that some business owners should make an investment in generators that can provide some power for a few hours. That, of course, remains the decision of the corporations and the local business owners.

Paul Uranga, owner of Chuy’s Restaurant and Lisa Cottrell, owner of The Cattle Company, told The Advocate that a power outage causes all kinds of havoc.

“When we have a power outage, we’re totally shut down,” said Mr. Uranga. “We have to serve the customers we already have in the restaurant, and we have to turn down all other customers who want to eat.”

Both Mr. Uranga and Ms. Cottrell said that they were in their restaurants well past midnight on Monday morning checking on freezers, refrigerators and icemakers. Mr. Uranga said that if an icemaker is not properly re-set, it could spell disaster. Depending on the length of the outage, a restaurant might have to destroy meat and poultry products if the temperature went above the state food recommended temperature.

At the Town of Van Horn, City Administrator Fran Malafronte told The Advocate that this outage had caused severe damage to the town’s internal server/Internet mechanism. The city will have to replace a burned out interface system that connects all the city’s internet and internal billing programs.

Ms. Malafronte added that the city’s “SCADA” radio relay, the computerized system that monitors the fresh water levels at the various pumping stations, were destroyed last Sunday night. She indicated that this outage had been particularly destructive to the city’s infrastructure. She said that water levels at the pumping stations are having to be monitored manually until the SCADA system can be replaced.

The Convention Center lost one air conditioning unit. It is unclear whether the problem is a compressor or some other broken mechanism. Total damage to the city’s operations that can be traced directly to last Sunday night’s outage will be in the range of more than $10,000, and perhaps upwards of $20,000, when overtime and labor is factored in.