Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Minnesota recovers from winter storm

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A Moorhead resident clears snow from her driveway Tuesday morning. (MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson)
Folks across the region began to dig out from the first winter storm of the year Tuesday. High winds, combined with ice and snow, toppled hundreds of power poles and made driving nearly impossible.

Moorhead, Minn. — Wind gusts of 40 mph or better created nasty snow drifts and made roads crusted with ice extremely dangerous. Highway crews had most roads open Tuesday, including Interstate 94 and I-29 in the eastern Dakotas.

The snow and high winds littered yards with tree limbs. The storm may help sell snow tires and car batteries, but it created havoc for power companies.

Otter Tail Power Co. estimates 6,000 of its Red River Valley customers are without power.

Bonnie Lund of Xcel Energy says all utility companies who serve the area face the same problem -- replacing power poles. It's estimated that 200 poles were knocked down during the storm. Lund says that makes the process of bringing on the lights more complicated.

"A hole has to be dug for each pole and then replaced, and then all the accompanying cross-arms and everything that goes with that service. It just takes time," says Lund

Depending on the conditions, it can take several hours to replace one power pole.

All of the utilities agreed that cutting off power to some customers might be necessary. The so-called rolling blackouts, controlled interruptions of 60 to 90 minutes, would occur so repairs to the power grid could be made. Heidi Haven, a spokeswoman for Cass County Electric, says consumers need to conserve energy.

"We're asking people to turn off unnecessary lights and try not to use any unnecessary electric energy," says Haven. "That's not just for members of Cass County Electric -- it's really important for people up and down the valley to be doing that. On that same note, our offices are running on generators, and that's an attempt to reduce the load on our grid."

So far, consumers are listening. In Moorhead, Concordia College cut power for a short time for non-essential services, to keep heat flowing to all its buildings. Bonnie Lund of Xcel Energy says rolling blackouts have not been necessary to this point.

"That possibility still exists, until we hear that some of the transmission facilities are repaired," says Lund.

Some are still without power. Beth Behrens and her family live near Glyndon, Minnesota. They've been without electricity since early Monday morning. Behrens has been able to cook on a gas stove. Behrens says she's been trying to keep busy.

"I cleaned out closets during the day, I've done some Christmas baking that doesn't consist of using my oven," Behrens says. "Not much. You're just kind of lost, you know. I could vacuum, but no I can't do that. It's really, really inconvenient."

Behrens says living without electricity, even for a few days, is quite an adjustment.

"You just take things for granted. You go into a room and you flip the light on," says Behrens. "You want to wash your hands and you turn the water on and it's like, Oh. You're kind of dumbfounded. You do miss that stuff."

Behrens has been told the power should be restored sometime Wednesday. Utility officials are hopeful the majority of their customers will have their service restored on Wednesday.

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