Power grid problems affect North Side

BY PAUL OSGERBY | JULY 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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Recent inclement weather has resulted in numerous power outages around the Iowa City area, but some local business owners say one specific electric substation has had an abnormally bad reputation.

The North Side Marketplace power grid, approximately situated from East Market to Church Streets, seems to experience more outages and fluctuating energy than other neighborhoods, some local business owners said.

It’s thought that the fluctuating power is associated with the old age of the Mid American Energy’s substation on North Linn Street, adjacent to Brix Cheese Shop & Wine Bar, 209 N. Linn St.

Ruth Comer, a spokeswoman for MidAmerican Energy, said the company continually supervises transmission and distribution centers in order to monitor if a grid needs an upgrade or update.

Comer declined to disclose the number of power outages in the area as well as information regarding future updates to the substation and power grid.

MidAmerican accepts individual concerns to analyze and work in part to look for upgrades and service reliability, she said. The process looks for ways to find local issues before addressing an entire power grid.

On June 26, the energy provider reported that lightning struck a large tree, and the collapse resulted in a power outage affecting much of the North Side grid and the surrounding area.

Electricity was out for nearly four and a half hours.

Recurring outages have left some business owners with concern about the power grid.

“We seem to have two to three outages a year,” said Naftaly Stramer, a co-owner of Oasis, which has been at its current location, 206 N. Linn St., for 10 years. “The problem with this power grid is that it’s very unstable.”

He said that during outages, it is imperative to keep refrigerator doors closed to maintain freshness.

Oasis also has a catering van that can be used as an additional source in maintaining cool temperatures for the food.

“The major concern is food,” Stramer said, noting that according to guidelines provided by an Iowa State University report on food expiration, after the four-hour period without refrigeration, businesses are recommended to dump the food.

The other concern, Stramer said, is remaining out of business.

The business has experienced energy-stability issues for all 10 years in its current location, he said.

After a fire broke out at Hamburg Inn No. 2 on May 18, Oasis and other businesses in the area lost power when a transformer caught fire.

Oasis lost $1,000 of food during that outage, and in an outage two years ago, it lost $2,500, Stramer said.

Monday’s storm brought power outages across the Iowa City metro area, and during the height of the downpour, MidAmerican reported 2,294 customers experienced a blackout.

“It wasn’t too bad, but you could see the energy surging,” Stramer said. “The flickering across the street looked like a ghost train.”

Several area business owners say they are somewhat prepared for power outages from inclement weather, but they find this neighborhood abnormally prone to blackouts.

“My two biggest concerns whenever there is a power outage are customer safety — if a customer is upstairs, I want to be able to run up there with a flashlight and bring them down — and that during stormy situations, it’s better to carry cash,” said Nialle Sylvan, the owner of the Haunted Bookshop, 219 N. Gilbert St.

Geoff Fruin, the assistant to the city manager, said that concerns with energy should be taken up with MidAmerican instead of contacting city officials, because the energy provider is a private entity responsible for upgrades, maintenance, and planning of facilities.

Some local business owners have been floating around the idea of forming a group in order to address the continuing issue before MidAmerican, Stramer said.

Though there are frequent power outages for many different reasons, Sylvan said she is pleased with the neighborhood and its atmosphere. She said that she believes the neighborhood has worked hard to make it an up-and-coming area.

“This neighborhood is so great,” she said. “In the event of a power outage, we’re all running and grabbing candles for each other.”

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