Oregon Live: Ice Storm Power Surge Fries Appliances

Oregon Live reports Northeast Portland residents fear they’ll be stuck with bills after ice storm power surge fries appliances. Power surges are something that people are told to expect, especially during lightning storms, but we don’t often think about damage to the electrical distribution system as a cause of surges. Additionally, we’re told to protect “sensitive electronics” like computers by using surge suppressing power strips, but not often told to protect other appliances. Some utilities offer whole house surge protection. For a small monthly fee, they’ll install a surge suppression device at the meter. I’m aware of at least one utility in the Yakima Valley who offers this service: Benton REA whole home surge protection link

From Oregon Live:

Eric Skye was jolted awake at 5:45 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 15, by the sound of an exploding electric transformer reverberating through his Northeast Portland home.

The block went dark immediately. Inside Skye’s home, smoke trailed from a blackened electrical outlet. Next door, the lightbulb above his neighbor’s kitchen sink burst. The cover of one nearby homeowner’s utility meter blew off and sailed into his neighbor’s yard, leaving the charred remnants of the meter exposed.

Another transformer exploded moments later, lighting up the sky on Northeast 42nd Avenue. Another explosion followed, then another, and another.

Pacific Power began restoring power two days later, but it was a rude awakening for many neighbors. Damaged or destroyed were furnaces, washers, dryers, ovens, refrigerators, dishwashers, sound systems, coffee makers, computers and electrical outlets. Approximately 80 residents in the neighborhood were impacted, according to the utility company.

For many, the losses could run in the thousands of dollars. And it’s not yet clear that insurance companies or Pacific Power will offer any help.

Meanwhile, appliance orders were already backlogged because sales spiked during the pandemic. That means many residents will be without refrigerators and washers for weeks.

Skye’s insurance company already denied his claim, saying damage from a power surge was excluded if the cause occurred outside the property. He plans to file a claim with Pacific Power, but isn’t optimistic. He’s already doled out several thousand dollars for a new washer, dryer, printer and audio system and thinks he will be out more than $3,500 in total if his dishwasher can’t be repaired.

“I’m seeing appliance trucks on my street every day,” Skye said. “We immediately bought a new washer and dryer. In a family of five, that becomes an emergency pretty quickly.”

Drew Hanson, a spokesperson for PacifiCorp, Pacific Power’s corporate parent, said that more than 18 transformers were damaged or destroyed and about 50,000 feet of wire came down in Northeast Portland during the ice storm that hit the city this month.
The Grant Park area experienced some of the worst damage, Hanson said. At the peak of the storm, about 80,000 Pacific Power customers were without electricity, about half of them in Northeast Portland. The last 300 customers to have power restored in Northeast Portland were in the Grant Park area.
Hanson said the power surge occurred on Feb. 15 when residents in the Grant Park area reported losing electricity, but he wouldn’t comment on what exactly caused the power surge except that it was storm-related and that power surges can happen when one energized power line falls on another.
He also declined to answer multiple questions about Pacific Power’s liability and whether the utility company would pay out money to customers who sustained damage to appliances during the surge. He said claims will be handled on a case-by-case basis and encouraged customers with questions to call directly.
“Most homeowner’s insurance policies should address the homeowner claims and will guide the homeowner through the process of submitting a claim,” Hanson said. “If the customer wants to make a claim against Pacific Power, they can contact the call center and request a claim form to be sent to them.”
Residents who spoke with The Oregonian/OregonLive said they either hadn’t heard back from Pacific Power about their claims or had yet to file claims because they were still assessing the damage.
Many reported that their homeowners insurance will cover damage, but some said their deductibles were high enough that it wasn’t worthwhile to file a claim. After the surge, Tom Martin realized that his deductible is $2,500, around the same amount it will likely cost him to replace a destroyed oven, refrigerator and dishwasher.
He said he plans to file a claim with Pacific Power, but isn’t hopeful he will receive help because of a “force majeure” clause in the utility company’s contracts which frees the company of liability for events out of their control.
Martin is purchasing new appliances with the expectation that he won’t be reimbursed. It will take weeks for the new appliances to be delivered and his family is currently using an old fishing cooler to keep their food cold. He said the experience has been trying, but he feels blessed that things weren’t worse.
“I’m frustrated, just like everybody else,” Martin said. “We’ll have to dip into the savings account to replace things.”
Bryan Snodgrass is one of the few people in the neighborhood who hasn’t had to replace appliances this week. That’s because he had a whole-house surge protector.
While that saved his appliances, it didn’t save his utility meter, which exploded during the power surge, destroying both the meter and its base. He had to pay to replace the base before Pacific Power came out to replace the meter and restore power, after he had gone six days without electricity…(continues)