CASPER, Wyo. — Many Paradise Valley and Mills residents and business owners are wondering whether they will have power Saturday night. The only way they will find out is when Rocky Mountain Power flips the switch for its scheduled nine-hour outage starting at 10 p.m.
Rocky Mountain Power said the planned outage is necessary so crews can perform maintenance work at the utility's Red Butte substation to provide service reliability to customers.
The exact locations of the outage were not clearly defined by RMP, leaving some residents and local business owners in the dark. More than 6,000 people received letters from the utility warning them of the outage. But since then the company has vacillated on who will be affected.
On Wednesday the Mountain View Conoco convenience store and gas station on West Yellowstone Highway in Mills expected to be without power during the outage. Because of the perishable items like ice cream in the store, owner Debbie Moore was worried about the cost her business may accrue because of the outage. She said without power her business could lose as much as $4,000 in fuel sales and "easily $8,000 to $10,000" because of food spoilage.
She said Rocky Mountain Power told her to "get generators or make other arrangements."
But Thursday afternoon, Moore said she received a call from Rocky Mountain Power telling her that she "might" have power. As of Thursday afternoon, she was still unsure and will rent a generator because she "can't take the chance not to."
"I think they need to postpone this," Moore said. "If this was the middle of New York City, would they knock out power for nine hours?"
Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Jeff Hymas told the Star-Tribune the power company "figured out a way" to keep businesses on Highway 220 in the Paradise Valley area in service. However, some business owners and managers along that stretch said the utility told them that they would be without power. Nev Clune is a district adviser for Loaf 'n Jug stores. He said the Loaf 'n Jug on Highway 220 will be without power and the utility didn't inform him until Thursday morning.
Guests and residents at the West Side Motel on Highway 220 will also be without power. The motel often caters to late-night travelers and truckers who need a place to rest.
"My biggest problem is how will I provide to the customers?" said Sammy Mudaliar, the motel's owner. "If there are no lights in the room, I cannot rent."
The Red Eagle Food Store and Exxon station will close at 9:30 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. on Saturday and will open at 7:30 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. on Sunday. Across the street, Paradise Valley Liquors and Lounge also received a letter from the power company.
Rocky Mountain Power chose to have the outage overnight to avoid affecting a large number of local businesses, Hymas said.
"We're trying to make it as convenient as possible," he said. "Sometimes we have to have outages during the day."
This will be a one-time incident and the extended length of the outage is "not a new policy," Hymas said.
"The fact is that this maintenance is necessary to improve service for the customers of Casper. Unfortunately it will be inconvenient for some customers."
The power company advises its customers to keep their refrigerators and freezers closed overnight to avoid food spoilage.
Boots BBQ Manager Linda Peterson said the restaurant adjacent to Paradise Valley Liquors and Lounge will be closed during the outage, but she is going to keep a close eye on the food in her freezers because the store does not have a generator.
"I don't know. I think they will be fine," she said. "It depends on how warm it is on Saturday."
Paradise Valley resident Doug McInnis said Rocky Mountain Power gave no prior warning to residents about keeping their food safe during the outage. The Food and Drug Administration says a refrigerator can keep food cool for four hours at 40 degrees.
"The power will be out for more than double the amount of time the FDA recommends," McInnis said. "A lot of people can't afford to throw their food out."
Rocky Mountain Power said food in the freezer will keep for two days and packing extra ice in the refrigerator will help prevent spoilage.
Paradise Valley resident Matt Burgardt is not as worried. "Food in the fridge for nine hours won't go bad," he said. But if there is a problem, he said, "we can put it in our camper."
McInnis' main grievance with the outage is "the length and the timing."
"We know power companies have to shut down and make repairs,'' he said. "But we've never seen it take nine hours."