Utility Crews Come Together to Restore Power in Region
CLARION CO., Pa. (EYT) – With the major power outages in Clarion County and surrounding areas caused by last week’s ice and snow, utility crews from across the state and even from other states have come together to assist in restoring power.
Following the storm that deposited heavy ice and snow on trees and utility lines late last week, Central Electric Cooperative (CEC) reported about 14,000 CEC members without service on Friday.
According to FirstEnergy Corporation Senior Communications Representative Todd Meyers, with over 70,000 FirstEnergy customers reporting outages in the region following the storm, FirstEnergy called in about 700 linemen and support crews from outside the area to help restore power. These linemen and support personnel came not only from other FirstEnergy companies – such as Met-Ed in Reading, Patomic Edison in Maryland, and even Jersey Central Power and Light in New Jersey – but also a number of independent contractors helped with the restoration.
Likewise, Ken Maleski, Manager of Communication and Public Relations for Central Electric, noted they have crews from seven other electric cooperatives assisting with restoration of power to Central Electric Customers, as well.
The companies assisting CEC are Adams Electric Cooperative from Gettysburg; REA Energy Cooperative from Indiana; Valley Rural Electric Cooperative from Huntington; United Electric Cooperative from DuBois; Northwestern Electric Cooperative from Cambridge Springs; Somerset Rural Electric Cooperative in Somerset; and Warren Electric Cooperative from Youngsville.
“We started putting out calls for them overnight on Thursday when we knew it was going to be bad with the accumulation of ice and snow on trees that were still fully leafed. When trees still have the leaves on them, that extra weight, along with the weight of the ice accumulation, can easily cause branches to break or entire trees to go over,” Meyers noted.
The staging area for the FirstEnergy Corporation crews was set up at Worthington Volunteer Fire Department in Armstrong County, strategically located between Butler and Kittanning in the area where the worst of the outages were concentrated.
Meyers explained the preplanning that FirstEnergy initiated for sitations such as this.
“We come up with these different staging sites, sometimes places like malls with big parking lots, or even fairgrounds, in advance. We preplan potential staging sites so we are not cold calling when something happens and we know the capability ahead of time. Then when we know the damage is going to be here, we can pull that trigger,” Meyers said.
Once the call has gone out, the crews all come in from different areas, bring their own trucks and equipment to the pre-set staging site. Those crews who are outside contractors and not part of a FirstEnergy Corporation company are first debriefed on FirstEnergy Corporation’s safety protocols as well as hazards of the area and the nature of the storm and the storm-related problems.
Central Electric has each of the outside teams working with one of their own crews on the ground.
“Since they don’t know our system, they travel with our crews. There are two crews working together on each outage, for their own safety, and every substation that has an outage going on has crews assigned to it,” Maleski noted.
At the FirstEnergy Corporation staging site, all of the necessary equipment is brought directly to the site by truck, from poles to wires and transformers, and the crews are then given assignments and sent out to start restoring power. Breakfast and boxed lunches are also provided at the staging site. During some events, lodging is also provided in the form of sleeper trailers, though that was not the case in this particular case.
“Crews were arriving here Friday and Saturday, and we’re having more crews come in today,” Meyers noted.
Meyers said the current estimation as of Monday afternoon was that they should have the majority of FirstEnergy customers power restored by 11:30 p.m. on Monday night. However, that is far from the end of the work for the crews.
“Many of the repairs made were temporary, just to get power restored. There are still poles that will need to be shored up and others that will need to be replaced. Permanent fixes will take more time.”
Maleski noted that the crews have been working in shifts around the clock since they arrived.
“The conditions right now are downed power lines from trees, and we have trees down everywhere. We still have trees blocking roads, lines in yards, and stuff of that nature,” he said.
Central Electric Cooperative focuses their protocol on getting all downed wires safely grounded before proceeding with any repairs. According to Maleski, they check for voltage first, then look for two openings, making certain they can ascertain the condition at both ends of any downed line, and finally, they ground both ends.
“We won’t do anything else until those steps are followed.”
Each of their crews also has its own tree trimming crew in tow so the linemen can focus their time and energy on the actual electrical lines, rather than the cutting and removal of the downed branches and trees that caused the issue.
Both Meyers and Maleski noted that while their companies are doing everything possible, with teams working around the clock, to get power restored to all of their customers, the safety of the men out on the job is always a major concern, and they make certain the linemen get their eight hour rest periods.
“In the old days, the guys worked straight through. They’re very dedicated, but we don’t want to see anyone get hurt,” Maleski noted.
“It’s all predicated on neighbors helping neighbors as they can,” Meyers said.
“It’s almost like a war campaign fighting a storm like this. 80% of our substations were impacted, many lines, both distribution and feeder lines feeding substations, were impacted by trees. Three-quarters of our distribution lines were impacted, and the damage was widespread.”
As of early Tuesday morning, FirstEnergy Corporation had about 1,981 remaining customers without power, and Central Electric Cooperative had about 2,400 remaining customers without power.
Maleski noted their overnight crews had made a lot of progress Monday night and hoped to make a lot more progress during the day on Tuesday; however, total restoration of all members is now on a day-to-day basis.
One of the schools impacted by the storm is Moniteau High School in West Sunbury. Due to power outages at the high school, the Moniteau School District closed and canceled all afternoon and evening events for Tuesday, November 20, 2018.
While some outages are ongoing, both companies say they have crews working continuously to restore all of their customer’s power as soon as possible.
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