State College

Power outage’s effects raise issues in State College

A late-afternoon power outage on Nov. 7 caused a surge that damaged appliances and has some Highlands residents concerned about the condition of the lines in their neighborhood.

According to FirstEnergy, the outage was reported at about 3 p.m. when some fuses “opened up.”

“We patrolled the circuit (wire) and found an insulator on the upper circuit that we think hit down on the lower circuit,” Area Manager Jolene Hindman said.

When a fuse opens, the current is stopped. This left some State College homes and businesses, including Schlow Centre Region Library, without power. The library was forced to close early.

The fuses were replaced by 5 p.m. and held, Hindman said. Repair on the wire also has been completed.

But the outage sent a surge of power through several homes, damaging appliances and home electronics.

Wendy Brown, of Hamilton Avenue, said she had four surge protectors blow in a huge blue flash. She said, “It was a pretty hair-raising moment or two.”

The surge tripped about six circuits in her house, disabling her furnace, she said. She called a repairman to get the furnace back up and running, but the air sterilizer was fried and needs to be replaced.

“We were extremely lucky,” she said. “Someone else lost a lot of major appliances.”

Borough Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said her home wasn’t caught in the surge, but she has a surge protector for her whole house, she said.

She said residents are concerned that the power company’s infrastructure is growing old and they want to have power lines moved underground, “but that’s not so easy to do.”

“It’s understood that if you’re doing work and you can move the electric lines at the same time, you do,” she said.

But it’s a very involved process, “and nobody does that unless they’re already digging up and have to.”

Residents also are concerned with tree branches falling on the power lines, she said.

What they don’t realize, she said, is that Allegheny Energy, a FirstEnergy subsidiary, and the borough come through every year and take down any dead or problem limbs.

“As far as the borough is concerned, we do constant maintenance,” Lafer said.

According to Hindman, the system worked as it was designed to, with the fuses opening when there was a surge. If it was a strong surge, she said, there could have been some damage before the fuses opened.

“That’s why people have protection on their equipment in their home,” she said.

Regular in-home surge protection can be as simple as a power strip, but protection can also be placed on an entire home.

Surge protection devices can be installed on the main service on a house, Kirk Lauer, of Lauer Electric in State College, said. This protects the incoming phone and power lines and can cost from $125 to $600.

“It’s a one-time shot,” he said. “They get destroyed in the process.”