BEVERLY- When the wind stopped and the dust settled after a powerful wind storm blew through the area June 29, 98 percent of American Electric Power's more than 29,000 customers in Washington County were without power.
"Out of 10 substations (in the county), I had nine of them dark," Keith Page, supervisor of distribution services for AEP Ohio in the Marietta area, told members of the Muskingum Valley Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.
AEP officials were invited to the chamber's monthly luncheon to outline their response to the derecho storm that ripped through the area, leaving some residents in the dark for nearly two weeks.
Photo by Evan Bevins
Keith Page, left, supervisor of distribution services for AEP Ohio in the Marietta area, talks with Trademark Solutions owner Joan Zoller, while AEP Ohio communication affairs manager Paul Prater, right, chats with Washington County Commissioner Tim Irvine after Wednesday’s Muskingum Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
One woman in attendance asked whether the company could be reimbursed by the government for the expenses it incurred in responding to the storm and its damage. Paul Prater, AEP Ohio communications affairs manager, said that was not an option and the money would eventually have to come from electric bills.
"Ultimately, we'll go back to the rate-payers for the cost of the storm," he said.
No amount or timetable has been set, Prater said, noting rate changes require the approval of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
Chamber President Glen Miller used an Olympic metaphor to praise the efforts of the workers.
"The power company crews deserve the gold medal for what they had to do and the conditions they were under," he said.
Chamber board member Jim Black said he appreciated learning what happened "behind the scenes."
"It was good to know what all they had to go through because each person was individually (more) concerned about getting their own power back on," he said.
Nearly 670,000 AEP customers throughout the state were without electricity at the height of the outages, Page said. Recovery was more challenging than the last time the company faced a similar number, in 2008 when the remnants of Hurricane Ike hit the state.
Damage was much more widespread, preventing crews from concentrating on a particular area and drawing help from nearby. While only five transmission poles were replaced after Ike, more than 400 had to be replaced this time.
In the wake of Ike, repairs were made in mild temperatures, while work after the derecho was done with a heat index of more than 100 degrees, Page said.
Because of the extreme heat and the safety equipment workers had to wear, they had to take frequent breaks, which resulted in frustration from residents.
"You can't work a guy 16 hours a day in 100-degree heat and not take multiple breaks," Page said.
But many workers were greeted by kindness from residents, offering to bring them drinks, and help from local organizations, businesses and agencies.
"We really appreciate them working with us," Page said. "We really appreciate the patience of the customers."
More than 6,000 people responded to the outages around the state, including workers from 19 states and Canada. Locally, a number of them were based at AEP's staging area at RJF International and the Oak Grove Community Building.
Page said the staging areas provided portable housing, shower and cooling facilities, meal service and more. He even gathered a large number of ear plugs after some of the workers complained about each other's snoring in the close quarters.
"You don't want linemen angry," Page laughed. "You want to get production, you've got to keep them happy."
Page explained the way AEP Ohio prioritizes repairs, noting they start with addressing hazards to public safety, then police and fire departments and hospitals. After that they focus on getting large blocks of customers restored, followed by smaller blocks and individual services.