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Did solar flare knock out power?

March 9, 2012
Jenn Brookens - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - An early morning blackout that reached from Fox Lake to Winnebago, and from Fairmont to Madelia, was more likely caused by a breakdown of an insulator on a transformer than a solar storm.

The power failure occurred 3:07 a.m. Thursday, and lasted for about an hour for the areas closer to the transformer, to more than two hours in the outlying areas. All areas had power back by 5:15 a.m.

"There was a failed transformer at the Rutland substation, and it's a transmission substation, which is why the power outage was so far-reaching," explained Marty Meixell, Fairmont Public Utilities electric supervisor. "That substation feeds Fairmont, Truman and Madelia, and also Welcome."

Those keeping tabs on a strong solar flare predicted for Thursday and today might believe the sun was to blame for the outage. Solar flares sometimes have a disruptive impact on satellites, power grids and communication networks.

However, Meixell said the solar flares were probably not an issue involving Thursday morning's power failure.

"We don't know exactly why it failed; we don't own that [transformer] equipment," Meixell said. "But from my experience, it is typical of what we see when the bushing insulators fail. They're made of precelin or glass and it can become cracked and get moisture inside ... People in Fairmont noticed that the power was flickering Wednesday, and that may have been the start of it."



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