Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Power Board progress: A few dozen remain without power

Date: Dec 23, 2009; Section: Front Page; Page: 1A

Press Business Editor

It’s been more than 10 years since the Johnson City Power Board faced outages as widespread as those caused by Friday’s snowstorm, but crews had restored electricity to all but a few dozen customers by Tuesday afternoon. It wasn’t quick enough for some people, but JCPB spokesman Robert White said frayed tempers and frustration are par for the course when weather events create multi-day, widespread havoc. “That normally happens with long outages,” White said. “We had some of that happen in ’98 and in ’93 (the last two major winter storms). Anytime someone’s without power for several days we understand they’re going to be frustrated.”He said that understanding was one reason JCPB kept its call center going full-speed throughout the past few days. “It gives customers a chance to talk with someone, because when people wind up without a real person on the other end of the line the frustration can get worse. “It gives them an assurance that someone has listened and heard their frustration, and that the work has been
turned in.”

White said the Power Board had worked all of its 20 or so available crews maximum hours since Friday, and different crews were working around the clock. All told, including outages that occurred in the days following the storm, an estimated 15,000 or so customers lost power at some point between Friday and Tuesday. The JCPB takes a methodical approach to fixing widespread outages, starting by repairing substation damage, three-phase lines and other factors that can put hundreds of customers in the dark. From there, crews narrow the work down to smaller-scale situations. By Monday, White said, most remaining work involved repairing or replacing blown transformers, fuses and other isolated cases. At that point, the JCPB was back to asking customers without power to call in. “We didn’t want to have customers slipping through the cracks,” White said. He said JCPB’s line crews were “fine” Tuesday despite the heavy workload. They’re just proud and pleased that they’re able to get the power back on. When they go out there and fuse a cutout or get some spans back on and they see lights come on, that’s when they’re happiest ... and they work hard.” White said that work will become even more efficient over the next few years as the Power Board rolls out an “advanced metering infrastructure.”

Ironically, JCPB commissioners spent part of their monthly meeting Tuesday
reviewing proposals for the system, which it will start deploying in February and expects to complete within 24 months. Once those meters are installed, the JCPB will be able to pinpoint outages down to each customer, remotely, through the new meters. The response to this month’s storm, White said, still involved some trial and error. “We’ll know immediately where we’re being affected,” White said. “We feel like we have it down really well (fixing widespread outages), but once you automate it from the meter it makes it a lot more efficient and accurate.”

If Mother Nature fails to cooperate between now and completion of the AMI system, White had one last request for customers involving something known as “cold load pickup.” He said after power is restored, waiting 10 minutes or so before cranking up the heating system can prevent a nasty surprise. If one fix suddenly restores power to 1,000 people or more, White said, some of those folks can experience an outage just minutes later. “When it comes back on, the first thing a lot of people do is kick that heat up to 80 degrees, and it can put such an immediate strain on the breakers it can knock them back out,” White said.

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