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PSC urges caution during power outages

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FRANKFORT, Ky. - With some power outages in Kentucky expected to extend into late this week, the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC) is urging residents without power to exercise caution when using portable generators or clearing storm debris.

Two series of strong thunderstorms caused two waves of power outages in the state recently, with damage concentrated in eastern Kentucky. More than 40,000 customers remain without power as of this afternoon.

The PSC is reminding Kentucky residents to stay away from all downed lines. Downed lines should be reported to the local utility company. If the lines are sparking, on fire or otherwise creating an emergency, call 911.

Customers who lose power should follow proper safety precautions if they use portable generators, PSC Chairman David Armstrong said.

“As we have learned from previous storms, improper use of portable generators can be extremely dangerous,” Armstrong said. “Many Kentuckians have lost their lives, and many others have been hospitalized, as the result of being poisoned by carbon monoxide emitted by portable generators that were not used correctly.”

To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning:

*Generators should only be operated outside in well-ventilated areas and never in a garage, basement or breezeway.

*Do not operate generators near windows, doors or in other areas where exhaust fumes could be drawn into a home or other occupied structure.

*Do not use charcoal grills, gas grills or other open-flame devices indoors for cooking.  To prevent fires, generators should never be refueled while they are running. Refuel only after the generator has been turned off and allowed to cool.

The PSC also is reminding electric customers who use a portable generator of electric safety guidelines that will protect them and those working to restore power. Keys to safe operation of generators include:                  

*Make sure a generator is properly sized for the load you will place on it. Remember that starting an electric motor, such as a refrigerator or air conditioner compressor, requires more electricity than the amount needed to keep it running. Do not overload your generator.

*Use only three-prong, grounded extension cords, properly rated for the load, to connect appliances to generators.

*Do not attempt to feed power into your home by adapting an extension cord to connect a generator to a wall outlet. This can cause a fire.

*Do not connect a generator to inside wiring in any way unless your home or business is equipped with a transfer switch that prevents power from flowing back into (backfeeding) the wires that supply your electricity.

Backfeeding poses a severe danger to workers attempting to restore electrical service. They can be severely injured or killed by power flowing back into lines which they assume are not carrying electricity. Also, if the line to your home or business becomes grounded, backfeeding can permanently damage your generator.

Customers who lose power should contact their utility company immediately. Most utilities in Kentucky have systems that use customer reports to help identify the location of the problem and determine what repairs are needed.

“It is important that every customer call to report an outage,” Armstrong said. “But repeated calls simply tie up the utility’s phone system. Call at once, but call only once.”

Customers who lose power also should check electric connections and meters for damage. Damaged connections or meters must be repaired before power can be restored to a home or business.

Falling or sagging power lines may have damaged the connections between the utility company’s overhead line and a customer’s electric system.

The connections are usually in the form of a masthead - a conduit connected to the service line - or, in older homes, an eyebolt which holds the line in place and an insulated line leading to the meter. In some cases, the meter or meter base may also be damaged.

Once power is restored, damaged connections or meters could pose an electrical or fire hazard if not repaired or if repaired improperly.