Most outages are caused by one of four things: storms, animals, equipment failure, or accidents. In most cases, power outages during calm weather affect very few customers and SMECO repairs them within hours. Below are typical causes of outages.
- Storms—Strong winds can knock trees and limbs onto overhead power lines, snapping the wires and sometimes breaking utility poles. When the ground is saturated from flooding, heavy rain, or melting snow, trees can be uprooted and may fall on power lines. During the winter, a heavy snow or freezing rain can coat the lines with ice and cause them to sag or break under the added weight.
Even after the storm has passed, its effect on trees can continue. Days later, when snow and ice have melted, or strong rains have saturated the ground, a tree may be uprooted and topple onto a power line. (Storms cause about 30 percent of the outages on our system.)
- Animals—Squirrels, snakes, and birds don’t know that electric equipment is dangerous. When they climb or land on SMECO poles, transformers, or substation equipment, they can cause shorts or faults that trip our circuit breakers. (about 10 percent of outages)
- Vehicle accidents—A car or truck that collides with a utility pole can knock it down or damage the pole enough to cut off electricity to members connected to the power line. For your own safety, please drive carefully during inclement weather.
- Construction accidents—Not only will the power go off when a construction crew digs into an underground power line, it can be dangerous for workers. For the safety of everyone involved, anyone performing construction should contact Miss Utility at 811 to have underground lines marked. Maryland state law requires you to contact Miss Utility at least 48 hours before you dig or begin excavation.
- Equipment failures—SMECO strives to keep its electric system in peak operating condition. When underground cables fail, or if an overhead transformer or circuit breaker fails, we promptly repair or replace the faulty equipment to minimize the time that members are without power. (about 25 percent of outages)
- Momentary outages—If you see your digital alarm clock flashing, you know that your home lost power, perhaps only briefly. To protect our electric system, SMECO uses automated equipment that detects a short circuit or fault on the line. (A circuit breaker in your home may open or “trip” when too many appliances are plugged in. SMECO has reclosers that open when there’s a fault on the line.) If a tree limb falls or makes contact with a power line, the recloser gives the fault three chances to clear on its own, so the power may go off briefly two or three times. If the fault hasn’t cleared, the recloser will stay open—and the power will stay out—until a SMECO crew removes the limb or clears the fault.
- Planned outages—SMECO regularly upgrades the equipment on its system to enhance reliability. Sometimes the work requires disconnecting power so that our crews can install new lines. When we need to disconnect a neighborhood, we use signs or other means to let the residents know in advance that their power will be out.
SMECO strives to keep the power on for every home and business in our community. During outages, we work as quickly as possible to get the lights back on. To report an outage, call 1-877-747-6326 (1-877-74-SMECO) or use our online form on SMECO’s outage page.