Three Lower Kuskokwim River communities lost power around 7 p.m. on Jan. 28 during extreme subzero temperatures and severe wind chill. Alaska Village Electric Cooperative CEO Meera Kohler confirmed that the outage shut down power across Bethel, Oscarville, and Napakiak.
Kohler said that it took AVEC workers 20 minutes to fix the issue and bring the power plant engines back online. Some areas regained power immediately. Other areas, including Bethel’s downtown, Swanson’s, and the port, did not receive power for nearly two hours.
Kohler said that a rupture in a rubber coupling gasket on the main cooling line caused the outage. She said that the line had not shown signs of wear, and that the issue could not have been anticipated. The breakage caused a loss of water pressure, stopping the engine and taking down the remaining engines as they overloaded. And though Kohler says cold temperatures did not contribute to the gasket failure, it did contribute to the duration of the outage.
Kohler says that plant operators are on duty 24/7, with the entire team available in cases of an emergency like the one on Jan. 28.
Correction: This story originally said that the Jan. 28, 2020 power outage shut down electricity to Napaskiak. The outage cut off power to Napakiak, not Napaskiak.