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Daily Republic employee Cheryl McManus applies mail labels to newspapers during a power outage Tuesday night as reporter and page designer Candy DenOuden holds a flashlight. (Korrie Wenzel/The Daily Republic)

Mitchell’s back-to-back outages come after Sunday outage in Ethan and Dimock

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Thousands of NorthWestern Energy customers in Mitchell and nearby towns have experienced power outages this week.

The biggest was late Tuesday night through early Wednesday morning, when 4,800 customers were affected, according to NorthWestern spokesman Tom Glanzer. Customers are defined as one account with the company, like one house or one business, so the actual number of people affected is unknown.

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Tuesday was at least the third time the Mitchell area suffered an outage this week. Other outages occurred Monday evening in Mitchell and Sunday morning in Ethan and Dimock. Additionally, last week on Wednesday afternoon in Mitchell there was a momentary blip when some customers lost power.

“The fact that they’ve all happened back to back to back is a very unfortunate chain of events and really none of them had anything to do with each other,” Glanzer said.

In total, 4,800 customers were affected by at least one of the outages. The area in southwest Mitchell that lost power Monday also lost power Tuesday night through Wednesday morning, so some customers experienced both outages.

The Mitchell area serves about 15,000 customers, according to Craig Fergen, NorthWestern’s Mitchell-area manager. He said the area includes customers from Mitchell to Chamberlain, Letcher to Tripp and Tripp to Platte.

Tuesday’s outage started at about 10:45 p.m. and lasted until about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Glanzer said the company believes a current-carrying, high-voltage switch at a Mitchell substation on the 900 block of East Havens Avenue was faulty. The switch is used to move power at the substation to different areas of town. Meanwhile, Mitchell was receiving its biggest snowstorm so far this season and was under a winter storm warning. By noon Wednesday, 7.2 inches of snow had fallen. At the time of the outage, Mitchell was at about 18 degrees with a wind chill of 4 degrees.

“It’s possible that the cold could have caused expansion and contraction of the switch,” Glanzer said. “At this time we’re not sure if it was weather related, though. We know there will be things when the weather switches. The equipment goes through changes.”

Fergen further explained the outage, which he said affected the southern half of Mitchell.

“These substations serve customers throughout the heat of the summer and cold of winter,” he said. “With the expansion and contraction of the metal switch, it loosened the connection with this recent cold spell and the contraction of the conductor got loose and fell open. It is one of those switches that when it gets loose, gravity will push it down and that’s what we think happened.”

The Daily Republic was among the affected customers Tuesday night. The newspaper’s A section had printed when the power went out, but printing of the B section was still in progress. Power at the newspaper office came back on around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, but it was too late to get the B section out in time. Even after the power returned, the newspaper’s computer systems were not functioning properly. The Wednesday B section, which is fronted by sports and also includes other content, was planned to be inserted in today’s papers along with the rest of today’s regular content.

Daily Republic Publisher Korrie Wenzel, who’s been with the newspaper in various roles for 22 years, said he doesn’t recall putting out an incomplete edition in the past.

“I don’t remember a night where so many things stacked up against us — the weather, the power outage and then the ensuing computer troubles,” he said. “It’ll be a little strange to include two sports sections in a single edition, but again, it’s better than the alternative of not getting a paper out at all last night. Actually, we’re quite lucky that we were able to send out what we did.”

Earlier Tuesday, Glanzer blamed the Monday power outage that left southwestern Mitchell in the dark for nearly three hours on faulty equipment at a different local substation.

The power went out at approximately 5 p.m. Monday and affected a total of about 1,300 commercial and residential customers, according to Glanzer. By 6 p.m. Monday, technicians had traced the problem to the substation and began working to replace the malfunctioning equipment. Power was restored to the area by about 7:45 p.m. Monday.

For safety reasons, the power was kept off while the repairs were performed, which may have extended the length of the power outage, Glanzer said.

The first outage of the week came early Sunday morning. Fergen said at about 12:30 a.m., both Ethan and Dimock lost power because of an owl that flew into equipment.

“We all rely on electricity and when the power goes out, it’s those times you realize how reliable the system is when you don’t have it,” Glanzer said. “Unfortunately for our customers and our crews, we’ve had three outages and we understand there’s been some frustration on our customers’ part, and we just appreciate their patience.”

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