Engineer: Mass power outage in Idaho due to winter weather ‘unlikely’

An engineering professor at the University of Idaho believes a natural disaster would be a much more likely cause of a mass power outage in Idaho
Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 9:22 PM MST
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — San Antonio, Texas, resident Russ Solis said once the storm hit, people were doing whatever they could to stock up on necessities.

“A lot of people were panic-buying and stores didn’t have water, food or pretty much anything,” Solis said.

Prior to last week, he didn’t think he had to worry about severe winter weather in Texas.

“For us to get snow like that in Texas, and to not have power and heat, that was really a struggle for a few days,” Solis said.

Left without power for multiple days while the state experienced sub-freezing temperatures was a common thread amongst Texas residents throughout the storm. While severe winter weather is more common in Idaho, some residents of the Gem State were concerned about similar circumstances taking place at their homes. This is a circumstance which University of Idaho engineering professor Brian Johnson deems unlikely.

“Things are designed for colder weather here,” Johnson said. “I think that’s less of an issue.”

Mass outages in any state that last several hours can lead to troublesome power restoration — as it was in Texas. This is because appliances with thermostats draw full power, which puts the grid under a heavy load.

Instead of temperature being the cause of outages in Idaho, Johnson believes a natural disaster would be a much more likely culprit.

“An earthquake would certainly be an issue,” Johnson said. “It could disrupt natural gas or have some potential effect on the hydroelectric system. The dams have to meet certain earthquake standards, so they probably would be OK, but they might have to shut down for inspection. Forest fires could also present problems.”

It’s not only a natural disaster within the state of Idaho which could be problematic either. Idaho is part of the Western electric power grid, so an earthquake in California could lead to power outages in Idaho.

“One of the times I actually saw an outage that affected Idaho was the Northridge earthquake in 1994. It actually caused southeast Idaho to blackout,” Johnson said. “You have to remember all of these areas are connected. If you go from the front range of the Rockies all the way to the West Coast, everything is one large connected system. What happens in California could affect Idaho and vice versa.”

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