Power to the people a real chore | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Power to the people a real chore

William Ferchland
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ Sierra Pacific Power linemen Jake Wines, foreground, from Elko, and Ross Daniels, from Fallon, work on a line Tuesday at Rose Avenue and Sierra Boulevard. The pair were brought in to help repair damage in the basin.

For more than three days, teenager Lance Gatien played board games, ate food cooked by his mother using the wood stove and waited for power to be restored to his family’s home in Meyers.

Lance was among the thousands at South Shore who were without electricity when a storm with winds strong enough to knock down trees blew into the Sierra on Saturday.

On Tuesday, 200 to 300 homes from Fallen Leaf Lake and Tahoe Mountain Road area to Sierra Tract to the Stateline area remained without power.

Sierra Pacific Power Spokesman Karl Walquist said 16 crews were in the Lake Tahoe Basin on Tuesday repairing lines to bring electricity back to South Shore and 1,300 customers on North Shore.

Walquist and others blamed the outages mostly on downed trees.

“It just takes time to get people in there to get the trees cleared up,” he said.

One tree fell on a line and house on Uplands Way off Tahoe Mountain Road, disrupting power in that neighborhood.

Some with prolonged absences of electricity said they resorted to checking into motels.

A damaged line or fuse affecting a large number of customers receives priority for repair over a power loss affecting a lesser number of homes, Walquist said.

Another explanation for long delays is how soon Sierra Pacific knows of an outage. Large outages are announced on the company’s operation center while smaller blackouts slip under the company’s radar unless someone contacts them.

As workers finished one repair, the company would receive a call of another outage. Throughout Tuesday, calls arrived at Sierra Pacific’s switchboard. Outages were reported in Nevada areas such as Glenbrook and lower Kingsbury Grade as crews fixed problems in California.

“We’re gaining on one side and not so much on the other side, the Nevada side, where we’ve had some more problems,” said Walquist, who added crews would be working “well into the night.”

One Sierra Pacific crew was wrapping up a repair along Sierra Boulevard on Tuesday afternoon. Technician Rob Helton was called from Fallon to assist in repairs. He said he was in the middle of his fourth consecutive 20-hour shift.

Sierra technician Steve Kauffman said the crew was going from “call to call” as he glanced up at Ross Daniels and Jake Wines, who were finishing a repair.

“That wind on Saturday morning did a lot of damage,” he said. “That was the magnified part of the storm. All right, this street is back in power.”

A whoop of joy and a “hell yeah” could be heard from a man in an apartment complex across the street. He gave the crew a thumbs up and let them know his electricity returned.

Carol Gatien, Lance’s mother, appreciated the work crews were doing to restore power but thought the power company could have done a better job.

“It seems to me that Sierra Pacific Power has failed miserably at their efforts to restore service in a timely manner,” she stated by e-mail. “There was very little communication from their staff in regards to accurate timelines. We received the same recorded message of ‘midnight’ for a good 48 hours.”

Walquist said Sierra Pacific was doing all it could under the circumstances.

“Anybody that can help is pressed into service,” he said.

At peak times during the weekend, 9,500 people at South Shore were without electricity while about 20,000 people on North Shore were left in the dark.

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