A particularly violent storm struck the College and caused power outages in a majority of campus buildings last Friday. The storm brought down many trees around campus, threatening the Central Maine Power (CMP) electricity supply lines.
"Very, very high winds cause trees to hit power lines or break power lines, which causes protective devices to stop their electric output," said Director of Facilities Operations & Maintenance Ted Stam.
Buildings that lost power include Hubbard Hall, Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Coles Tower, Watson Arena and Osher Hall, among others. CMP, the largest electricity distributor in Maine, supplies Bowdoin's power supply.
"Bowdoin's main campus has a unique distribution system," consisting of two power loops servicing the north and south ends of campus, said Stam. "Only the south loop lost power."
The south loop services all campus buildings from Osher Hall and West Hall until approximately Moulton Union, while the north loop services buildings beyond that point.
"Of late, the south loop has had most failures, but it is hard to predict," said Stam. The outages are unrelated to the architecture of the campus buildings, as they are primarily the consequence of falling branches due to high winds.
Smaller houses on campus did not lose power on Friday because they receive electricity from a different CMP source.
Power was restored to most buildings by midday Friday, but power outages were again reported at Watson Arena, Helmreich House and Reed House on Saturday evening. Falling branches caused the outages at Helmreich and Reed House, while Watson Arena momentarily lost power because of the irregular activity of a CMP transformer in Harpswell.
While the power outage at Watson Arena was brief, "there was a lot of confusion because people thought the arena outage was related to the others," said Stam. The arena lost power for 15 minutes not because of problems with the transformer, but because it has a "special type of high-intensity sports lighting, which if it loses power momentarily, must shut off for at least 15 minutes to avoid overheating," Stam said.
The power outages at Bowdoin were minimal compared to those in the rest of the state, as many residences and businesses did not have power throughout the entire weekend.
On Tuesday, CMP posted a press release on their Web site reporting that power would be restored as of Tuesday evening for all customers affected by the storm. The press release also reported that the month of February yielded the fifth-highest peak outages in 25 years; 351 poles were broken, the "second highest number since the 1998 ice storm."
Stam cited several successful measures taken by Facilities Management staff over the course of the year that decreased the frequency of power outages.
First, he said, "we've been working with CMP recently, and they've cut back trees and gone through all of their protective device circuitry, which would help with most storms."
However, last weekend's storm was stronger than average, threatening thousands of households and businesses in Maine.
"Every event is different, and this one particularly challenged [CMP's] staff. They typically restore their most critical customers, like hospitals, first," said Stam.
According to Stam, the system of north and south loops helps to prevent massive outages.
"We have gotten more buildings on the loops, which is good because there is less risk of both loops going down at the same time," he said.
To prevent major power losses, Facilities Management has increased the number of connections and switches to portable generators.
"We have portable generators so that in the event that we lose power we can still function on a very basic level," said Stam.
While the storm hit hard, Stam said that the power outages were not costly to repair.
"The only costs that we had were to pay for staff overtime and to power the generators, so it's not a huge expense." Stam added, "We don't incur costs for power lines. Our rule for electricity is that the company is responsible up to the electric meter."
Last weekend's storm caused the first power outage of the academic year, indicating the success of the Facilities Management's preventative measures, according to Stam.
"This was a particularly violent storm," Stam said. "We have lost power in far less strong storms before. Up to this one this year we had no outages, so the measures that we took worked."
The "response was outstanding on our part and on that of CMP-they had a huge task to overcome with all the outages in the state, and our staff worked on the portables and made sure the generators were running...everyone did a great job," he said.