MRO Q&A: Utility Company Bites Into Brewery Blips

Sept. 24, 2015
A reader asks how to handle power blips and restarts the utility company insists is caused by squirrels.

Question: We operate a 24/7 brewery and have had up to three power “blips” a month. This results in equipment restarts and havoc throughout the operation. The utility company tells us the cause is squirrels chewing through cables. What can we do?

Answer: I understand the problem and, unfortunately, there are no quick fixes. Here are a couple of suggestions.

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Typically, two electrical feeds service a facility. I would contact businesses supplied by the separate feed lines to determine if all are experiencing the same outages with the same frequency as you. If that’s not the case on one line, I would petition the utility to switch my service to that feeder. It is not uncommon, if you are at the end of the feed, to have voltage drop problems that affect more sensitive pieces of equipment.

I would also check the rate and tariff that you are paying to the utility. It sounds like you may be paying for “firm” power supply but are receiving an “interruptible” power supply.  Although it doesn't solve your outage problem, this type of protest gets the ear of the local utility and can result in an increase in attention and better performance.

Thoroughly document the frequency and duration of each blip. Also document which pieces of downed equipment have the greatest negative impact on your operation. Once done, you can size uninterruptable power supplies (UPS) for these pieces of equipment. UPS units aren’t designed for prolonged outages, but they can bridge short power lapses.

If many machines are affected, determine which events represent true disruptions. Depending on the cost of the fix, you might consider installing a back-up generator fired with natural gas or diesel fuel. This is a bit tricky because you have to determine which electrical substation(s) must be fed. You can install generators with automatic switching mechanisms, but some states require specific safeguards be put in place, so check with the utility.

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