On Friday June 29th our area experienced a severe storm with 80 mph winds that knocked out power for over 600,000 American Electric Power (AEP) customers in Ohio and it took a week or more to get the power back on. AEP claimed the storm was more than their system could handle with the amount of damage not seen since the remnant of Hurricane Ike passed through in 2008. There might be another explanation as to why restoration is taking so long in recent years. Power companies seem to be more interested in profits over service and they want you to pay for their cost cutting.
The storm that blew on June 29th is called a derecho:
The word derecho is a Spanish word, meaning “straight” or “right.” In meteorology, the term is used to describe a long-lived, violent straight-line convective wind storm. A derecho usually takes the form of a squall line or large bow echo, traveling hundreds of miles. Derechos produce widespread wind gusts to severe criteria (50 knots or 58 MPH), and wind gusts to 80 MPH (and even 100 MPH in rare cases) are possible. Derechos are not very common, as many atmospheric conditions have to come together perfectly for one to form. Sometimes, extreme winds caused by derechos are mistaken for tornadoes, due to their violent and turbulent nature, the appearance of swirling vortices of wind that can sometimes be observed along the leading edge of the gust front, and the significant amount of damage they cause.
When there is such a strong wind event naturally power is going to be taken out. There are wood poles that get knocked over and trees that get blown over taking power lines with them. But why did it take more than a week to restore all the power? Even after an aggressive tree trimming program after that got the blame for the long outage in 2008 due to the Hurricane Ike.
One reason for it taking so long may be due to a lack of line workers:
Griffin says that starting 15 years ago, Pepco stopped hiring workers to replace retiring electrical workers and offered incentive-laden buyout deals to get electricians to retire. In order to address understaffing problems, Pepco has at times hired non-union temporary contractors, instead of hiring new workers. Griffin estimates that Pepco currently employs 1,150 union workers and approximately 400 non-union contractors. The understaffing has led to problems that the IBEW warned about years ago.
“Everything is keyed on dollars and cents profit,” warned IBEW Utility Director Jim Hunter back in 2005. “Storm outages are longer, and utilities are asking for more and more help from other utilities. The problem is that other companies are in the same boat. And they are still not hiring.”
Despite having a negative -57% tax rate from 2008 to 2010 and making nearly $822 million in profits during that period, Pepco has not hired a sufficient number of electricians to properly maintain the system. Griffin claims the insufficient number of linemen causes Pepco’s system to go out more often not just during storms, but on hot summer days when electrical grids are maxed out from air conditioners and fans. When big storms do hit and knock down the system, PEPCO hires outside contractors from far-away states to help in repairs.
“When we have a major storm like this we rely heavily on assistance from other utilities. We have crews coming from Quebec and Oklahoma,” says Griffin. “If we had more linemen we wouldn’t have to wait three days for some of these crews to arrive. These extended power outages have to do with number of workers Pepco has on their payroll.”
AEP seems to working the same way that Pepco does in the DC area. It brought in several hundred linemen from out of state.
Another issue is after Hurricane Ike, why did AEPs substations get knocked out again. Why didn’t they hold up to an 80 mph wind. We have tornados which are stronger than 80 mph yet unless it is a direct hit, substations don’t get knocked out. You think AEP would work to make sure that didn’t happen again.
Also my family in Findlay suffered for 5 days with no power but what did I see at a power company camp at the Lima Mall on the Monday after the outage?
Yes an AEP Findlay division truck in Lima. The small village of Forest in eastern Hancock county got their power on before my family did in Findlay. Why?
To give somewhat an idea of how it use to be, back during the Blizzard of 1978 Findlay lost power at most for 12 hours after the storm hit. We had 50 to 60 mph winds, below zero temperatures, and at least a foot of snow blown into 10 to 20 foot drifts in places. There would be a snow plow followed by an electric truck as they went down county roads to restore power in the rural areas of the county.
But I guess AEP made a good business decision, I mean why spend the cash on having enough workers on hand for the worst case scenario or to keep your equipment up to date. I guess the bottom line is more important than servicing your customers.
The funny thing is that AEP will try to pass on the large sum spent now on to customers when it would have been much less had they spent the money on having enough workers and modern equipment.