Chris Perry at Mellow Mushroom didn’t know why a pizza oven shut off in the middle of a busy Friday night shift March 8. He’d noticed the oven was burning “funny,” and that some of the pizzas were burning, but he was too busy to do much about it— he went ahead with one oven instead of two.
It wasn’t until a few days later when talking to another Corner restaurant employee that Perry realized he wasn’t the only one with oven woes that evening.
As it turns out, the City received 14 service calls around the time Perry’s oven shut off. The problem? The City was mixing propane with air and injecting it into natural methane gas lines. Because propane burns hotter than methane, that change wreaked havoc on sensitive thermostats and pilot lights all over town.
One Corner restaurant employee, who prefers to go unnamed, called the City when his oven cut out and he couldn’t relight the pilot. He says a repair technician said he’d gotten eight calls that evening from people with the same problem.
The situation, according to Jim Palmborg, city public utilities manager, arose from the City’s propane air plant, which is supposed to provide additional capacity when severe cold weather taxes the natural gas system. “It’s a normal thing,” says Palmborg. The switch in gases is not supposed to have an impact on users.
The restaurant staffer says he’s disgusted because no one announced the change in gases. Palmborg says because it’s done so infrequently and because there’s not supposed to be an impact, the city doesn’t notify its gas customers.
Palmborg doesn’t expect this particular problem to crop up again because the city is closing the propane plant. “We decided we don’t need it anymore,” he says. “We’re selling the equipment.”
For Chris Perry, the different gas clarifies one thing. “That,” he says ruefully, “explains why we were burning those pizzas.”