Customers of West Oregon Electric Cooperative who live in the Chapman area will be subject to a four-day power outage starting Tuesday, July 11.
The utility provider says the planned outage is necessary for "extensive maintenance" to the Chapman substation off Scappoose-Vernonia Highway.
Customers were notified about the outage last week and were told they would be without power from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday.
Don Rose, operations manager with West Oregon Electric, said the utility co-op looked into options for providing a back-up power supply such as portable transformers for ratepayers during the outages, but that didn't pan out due to compatability issues.
Rose said the work is necessary to prevent unexpected major outages in the future.
"It's maintenance that needs to be done on the transformers because if you don't do it, it could go out and be out for two to three weeks," Rose said. "That substation hasn't had any maintenance done to it since it was built."
Crews will be replacing some equipment and removing moss, rust and re-painting, Rose explained. He said the work needs to be done during dry, daylight hours so crews can see what they're doing and apply paint without it getting rained on. An estimated 200 to 300 customers will be impacted by the outage.
While some are preparing to be without power for 11 hours a day for the rest of the workweek, others say it's impossible to adequately prepare for the outage, which was planned without consideration for the utility co-op's vulnerable customers.
Residents in the rural Chapman area rely on electricity for just about everything.
Joy Ferrenburg has lived in the area for nearly 40 years. She says her household will have a hard enough time conserving all the cold air in the refrigerator and freezer for 11 hours at a time to prevent food from spoiling. She worries about some of her neighbors who are elderly and disabled.
Cellular reception in the area is spotty, Ferrenburg said, which leaves many people without power or a phone.
"All of us are on a well," Ferrenburg noted. An electric pump is needed to draw water from wells. "When we have no electricity, we have nothing, which means no cell phones, no landlines, no toilet, nothing."
Ferrenburg said she has a device that boosts her cell phone signal, but it doesn't work without a power supply.
"If they don't have hardwired phones, they don't have any phone service," Ferrenburg said of Chapman residents. "If a fire starts, how do we tell a fireman? If someone has a heart attack, how do they call for help?"
Rose said being notified a week and a half prior to a prolonged outage isn't enough time to properly plan.
When asked if West Oregon Electric had suggestions for customers who rely on medical devices that need to be plugged in, or those with conditions like multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis who can't handle hot summer temperatures without air conditioning, Rose said he expects most who live in the area have some kind of back-up generator or alternative power supply.
"Anybody that lives out in that area that relies on medical equipment surely has backup power or a generator, because that area is notorious for outages, especially during the winter," Rose said. "There's no guarantee for power with the trees we have around here."
"There are a lot of people out there that don't have [a generator]," Ferrenburg said. "What are the senior citizens who can't afford one supposed to do?"
The utility co-op posted a notice of the outage on its website this week with instructions to call the office in Vernonia at 503-429-3021 during business hours if ratepayers have questions. Those affected will need to find a way to call during the outage as it exceeds the utility office's business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.