Electric company, emergency responders urge caution with generators

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hurricane season officially begins Thursday, but with the frequency of thunderstorms in Pearl River County, a power outage could occur at any time.
Along the Gulf Coast, homeowners have grown accustomed to losing power. Many made the investment in portable generators to power their appliances and even their homes during these situations.
However, improper use of those machines can cause serious damage.
“I caution anyone who plans on operating a generator to read and follow the instructions,” Mississippi Power Corporate Communication Spokesman Jeff Shepard said.
The main issue linemen face when attempting to restore power or repair downed power lines is backfeeding, Shepard said.
When homeowners plug a generator directly into the home’s wiring, it has potential to send an electrical current back up the power lines, he said.
Since Hurricane Katrina, Shepard said he’s noticed two things: more people have portable generators and they’re getting quieter, making it more difficult for linemen to detect their presence when making repairs.
“Our guys are taught that if they see and hear a generator, assume it’s hooked up incorrectly,” Shepard said.
Often what happens is people disconnect their electrical meter outside their home and plug in the generator, Pearl River County Emergency Management Director Danny Manley said.
“If you’re going to hook it up to your house, you need a licensed electrician,” he said.
In times of emergency, electricians aren’t easy to find, he said, so people try to do it themselves.
“The best thing to do is use it as it’s designed, plug in what you need to run directly into the generator,” Manley said.
Other issues to look for include ensuring an older generator is producing electricity.
“Older generators need to be tested under a load, it needs to be producing power,” he said. “What we see a lot are people testing the motors, but the they don’t test the electrical side.”
Generators that are not maintained fail when they’re needed most, Manley said.
Other times ethanol in gasoline builds up in the carburetor, making the generator useless, he said.
It’s a good idea to use non-ethanol fuels, Manley said.
During storm season it’s also important to be cautious around downed power lines, Shepard said. If a power line is down, Shepard said bystanders should assume it’s energized and notify authorities or Mississippi Power to ensure safe restoration of services.
Some of the most common safety tips provided by Mississippi Power include:
-Don’t use a generator in an enclosed space. Carbon monoxide can build up quickly without occupants being able to see or smell the toxic fumes.
-Don’t plug the generator into a wall outlet to power the whole house. Plug appliances directly into the generator or through a heavy-duty outdoor extension cord.
-Keep the generator dry and away from rain.

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About Julia Arenstam

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