Alaska Earthquake Rattles Nerves, but Co-op Power Problems Were Minimal

This aerial photo shows damage on south of Wasilla, Alaska, after the Nov. 30 earthquake and aftershocks. (Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News via AP)
This aerial photo shows damage on south of Wasilla, Alaska, after the Nov. 30 earthquake and aftershocks. (Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News via AP)

A major earthquake that shook buildings, ripped up roadways and rattled nerves across parts of Alaska temporarily knocked out service to thousands of electric cooperative consumer-members on Friday, but their co-ops handled most outages within hours.

“It was pretty scary,” said Julie Hasquet, manager of communications for Chugach Electric Association. Chugach is one of three electric co-ops headquartered in Anchorage, where a 7.0-magnitude tremor struck at 8:29 a.m. local time.

More than 1,000 aftershocks, including at least 17 above 4.0 magnitude, have rattled nerves and reminded residents that the region sits above a major fault line.

“I grew up in Southern California and went through many earthquakes,” said Hasquet, who was conducting a tour of the co-op’s headquarters when the major temblor hit. “I’ve lived in Alaska for 32 years and have gone through many earthquakes here, and I will say this is the longest, scariest earthquake I’ve ever been a part of.”

The quake was centered about eight miles northwest of downtown Anchorage, but Alaska residents hundreds of miles away also felt the initial tremor. State officials said electrical service was temporarily disrupted to about 32,000 meters, including many of those served by the four power providers who are connected to the Alaska Intertie, a 170-mile transmission system that connects the Cook Inlet region to the Fairbanks area.

According to Crystal Enkvist, executive director of the Alaska Power Association, the four utilities serving Cook Inlet were all supplying electricity to their respective service territories as of Friday evening, but repairs to reconnect individual customers or co-op consumer-members continued.

No major outages “on the power side, thanks to our exceptional and resilient electric utilities in Alaska,” Enkvist said late Friday. The statewide association, also headquartered in Anchorage, continued monitoring restoration efforts throughout the weekend.

Matanuska Electric Association got hit the hardest. Sixteen of its 21 substations were offline immediately following the earthquake, according to officials from the Palmer, Alaska-based co-op.

With approximately 49,000 of its more than 68,000 meters out of service, all available crews worked on power restoration. The co-op restored power to almost all members within 15 hours of the earthquake.

Fairbanks, Alaska-based Golden Valley Electric Association provided Matanuska Electric Association with about 4 megawatts of power output from its Healy Power Station to help the co-op re-establish service to some of its members. The co-op also assisted Matanuska EA with an aerial inspection of the Alaska Intertie as restoration work got under way.

Other co-ops serving members in southern Alaska from Prince William Sound to the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak Island reported few problems, although the initial quake and some of its more powerful aftershocks shook their facilities.

Homer Electric Association experienced some outages from the earthquake tripping the lines, said Bruce Shelly, director of member relations for the Homer, Alaska-based co-op, adding that co-op-owned power plants suffered no damage and generators were working as expected.

Alaska Village Electric Cooperative closed its Anchorage office shortly after the earthquake occurred so staff based at its headquarters could check on their families and property, but the co-op, which serves villages across the region, reported no service problems.

Cordova Electric Cooperative, which serves members near Valdez, reported no damage and continued operating normally. “It shook us a little, that’s all, nothing like the 90-second 7.9 we had in January,” said CEO Clay Koplin.

Derrill Holly is a staff writer at NRECA.