What causes brief power failures?

It happens all the time.

Marietta resident Jennie Williams, 77, is at home going about her business when the power suddenly goes out. Then, within 10 seconds, the electricity flickers back on again.

“It’s never more than 10 seconds. Just enough to reset all the clocks and mess up the televisions,” said Williams.

And the outages are unpredictable, she added, noting that her household has had the power flicker as many as three times in one day and then gone a month without experiencing it again.

These small outages may not last long, but they are an inconvenience that many area residents have wondered about for years. For some, the outages are a minor annoyance, but for others the brief blackouts can cause a major problem with more sensitive electronic devices.

Because of the brevity of the outages, no equipment is in place to track their frequency, said Terri Flora, director of communications for AEP Ohio.

However, they became frequent enough that Williams, who has lived at her current address for around 20 years, decided she wanted to know what was causing them.

Williams said she started noticing the momentary outages about five years ago, and it became such a nuisance, that a year ago she decided to write a letter to her power company, American Electric Power.

“I did immediately get an answer from them, but the problem has not gotten any better,” she said.

In the letter, AEP said that one of the outages Williams had experienced was because a squirrel was electrocuted in her neighborhood.

While animals can come into play when momentary outages are involved, the overall explanation is a simple one, said AEP spokeswoman Fay White.

“We have protective devices on the lines called reclosers. When they detect an object on the line that might pose a problem, they briefly de-energize the line,” explained White.

If no problem is detected, the line powers itself back up, she said.

The technology is a protective measure, said Flora.

“Oftentimes it means the system is doing what it is supposed to,” she said.

Warren Township resident Ernie Thode, 70, noticed the outages gradually increasing in frequency at his home and at his former work location within the last six or seven years.

Additionally, Thode said he noticed the momentary outages at his home did not typically coincide with the outages he experienced at the Washington County Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy building.

“It’s a nuisance when you have to reset your clocks and if you’re in the middle of something on your computer, you have to reboot it all,” said Thode.

Though Jill Cox, 46, has not noticed the outages at the downtown Marietta dentist’s office where she works, she experiences them all too frequently at her home in Harrisville, W.Va.

“It will flicker at least once a week I would say,” said Cox, whose electricity is provided by Mon Power.

Resetting the clocks is the least of her concern. If Cox does not catch the outage fast enough, the hot tub at her home resets itself and runs constantly, causing higher electricity charges.

The outages can also cause long-term damage to people’s electronic devices, said Washington County IT director Eric Skomra.

“If there isn’t anything separating the components from that power fluctuation, you can have a drop in power and then a spike which can cause the physical components of the electronics to fail,” he said.

Essentially, when the power reboots after just a few seconds off, the sudden rush of energy can permanently harm electronics, he said.

Marietta Network Administrator Amy Tucker said the city uses battery backups, so that electronics stay on even during the short outages. Surge protectors are another way to make sure electronics do not malfunction, she said.

Though Flora acknowledges that the short outages are an annoyance, they are really a benefit to the customers, she said. By having the line automatically shut itself down to check for threats, it actually prevents longer term outages, said Flora.

The recloser technology has actually been in place for decades, she added, but customers have noticed it more in recent years because of changes to technology.

“Our technology is more sensitive,” she said, pointing out that years ago, we did not have technologies that reset themselves, such as TiVo and digital clocks.

In fact, it appears as though short outages are decreasing in frequency and in length. Though it is difficult to measure exactly how frequently the “momentaries” occur or how long they last because there is no technology in place to track them, the company does try to measure those numbers through customer feedback, said Flora.

Customers who experience the short outages are encouraged to report them online at aepohio.com/outages/report/ or by calling 800-277-2177.