cel says magnesium chloride contributed to power outage | SummitDaily.com

cel says magnesium chloride contributed to power outage

SUMMIT COUNTY – cel Energy officials say magnesium chloride, the often controversial substance used to keep highways free of ice, contributed to Thursday night’s power outage.

The power went down in Silverthorne, Dillon and Frisco about 8:15 p.m., leaving roughly 1,000 cel customers in the dark for about 45 minutes. Company spokesman Steve Rolstad first said the outage was caused by the failure of a piece of equipment called a recloser, but Friday morning, he said the story wasn’t as simple as that.

“That piece of equipment did not necessarily malfunction,” he said. “The reason it would not close the circuit and allow electricity to flow is we were having tracking problems in some utility poles along I-70. Tracking is sort of like arcing.

“Dust and magnesium chloride build up on our equipment along the highways. When there is moisture and enough of that buildup, electricity does what it normally does, which is to take the least-resistance path to ground.”

Three cel employees tracked down the problem Thursday and cleaned off the equipment, restoring power.

“It’s the magnesium in the magnesium chloride,” Rolstad said. “It’s kind of sticky, but when cars drive over it on a wet road, it turns into sort of a water vapor, floats up, gets on shrubbery, trees and our equipment. We’ve had the (tracking) problem long before magnesium chloride. With dirt and dust and water, you’ll get tracking. But the magnesium chloride, in some cases, can make that occur a little more frequently.”

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) puts magnesium chloride on I-70, generally before a storm comes in. Some people say the substance is highly corrosive and poses environmental hazards. CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said she’s also heard cel’s statements in the past.

“cel has made that claim before but has never come to us with any proof,” she said. “If there was any truth to that claim, it would be similar in any of the coastal states near salt water. I think we would see those problems in those cities, which we don’t appear to be seeing.

“CDOT has a responsibility to provide safe highways. cel has a responsibility to provide power.”

Rolstad said cel isn’t complaining about magnesium chloride.

“It’s a controversy only to the extent people want to make it a controversy,” he said. “As far as we’re concerned here at cel Energy, it is part of doing business. We simply have to find better processes and methods to deal with it, and we will.”


Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at jreuter@summitdaily.com.

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