Oregon State University addresses power outages on campus

A Pacific Power warning sign hangs on a fence. Pacific Power is the company responsible for serving Oregon State University’s power needs.

Garrett Taylor Practicum Contributor

University developing an Electrical Energy Sustainability Plan focused on reliability, safety, efficiency

It is an early-morning chemistry lab and barely anyone is awake. You are finally in the middle of your assignment for the day when suddenly the room goes dark. The students around you nervously look to one another. The power is out. Class is canceled. Your schoolwork will have to wait.

Over the past year, several power outages have affected the Oregon State University campus. 

In an email sent to the entire OSU student body on May 30, the university acknowledged that these power outages are more than just a minor inconvenience to many students.

The most recent outage was on May 11 and affected 20 buildings on campus, according to Steve Clark, OSU vice president of university relations and marketing.

According to Clark, OSU is served by a private utilities company called Pacific Power, so when a problem happens with Pacific Power it usually affects OSU as well.  The May 11 outage was caused by an equipment issue at a substation on 26th Street and Grant Street, affecting 3,000 customers in addition to campus.

“One issue is the high ground water present in the Corvallis area and the problems that occur when water from heavy rainfall enters power substation vaults. We have worked with Pacific Power to improve systems to pump out these waters, but sometimes the influx of water due to heavy rainfall is

overwhelming,” Clark said in an email.

According to Tom Gauntt, a Pacific Power media spokesperson, some of the power outages in the past year were heavily influenced by the weather.

Pacific Power is also doing what they can to limit these kinds of outages and the disturbances they cause.

“We plan to install sump pumps to pump the water out of the substations,” Gauntt said.

According to Gauntt, a sump pump is an automatic pump that senses when water levels get too high and subsequently pumps the water out of the station.

When an outage happens, OSU works directly with Oregon State Facilities Services to find out everything they can about the outage and what can be done about it, according to Clark.

“Those crews work to forecast the expected duration of the outage, and we immediately communicate to students, faculty and staff the outage and its expected duration by e-mails, social media and updates on the OSU Home Page,” Clark said in an email.

Many of the cancelled classes had projects, assignments, lectures and even midterms cancelled and pushed back to later dates, according to Clark.

“Power outages are not something we want to occur as they provide interruption to the typical operation and safety of the campus, including teaching, research, and other operations, including our residence halls,” Clark said in an email.

According to Clark, many labs and research areas have backup power generators so that valuable research is not ruined and potentially dangerous materials released.

“In response we continue to expand back-up power generating systems for campus buildings and make improvements when problems with on-campus power grid facilities are identified,” Clark said in an email.

David Baugh is a third-year applied computer science major and was supposed to have a class, CS 381: Programming Language Fundamentals, in Gilbert Hall. 

“We were supposed to have a midterm and we got an email from the professor rescheduling the midterm,” Baugh said.

For Baugh, the cancellation led to the rescheduling of a midterm and the whole class over the next two weeks.

Kevin McGill is a fifth-year mechanical engineering student who also had a cancelled class, ME 499: Welding and Metallurgy, in Kearney Hall.  

“Homework was still due that day since it was due online,” McGill said.

McGill said that study sessions for the following midterm were cancelled, possibly affecting the scores that would follow.

Pacific Power and OSU are working together to solve these problems, including a planned power outage on June 18 in order to study and fix any problems that may lie in the power grid in the university, according to Gauntt.

“We continue to expand our notification systems to best and immediately inform our students and employees when a problem occurs,” Clark said in an email.

Was this article helpful?