The Berks-Mont News (

Utilities have ‘reason and a method’ for restoring outages

It’s about balance, speed of restoration and safety

By Donna Rovins,, @MercBiz on Twitter

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

As the region braced Tuesday for the arrival of a second nor’easter, electric utility crews from PECO and Met-Ed continued their restoration effort from last Friday’s storm.

Winter storm Riley, which began impacting the area March 2, caused widespread power outages for hundreds of thousands of customers.

For PECO, the storm was the third most damaging storm on record, according to PECO spokesman Greg Smore. The utility had 630,000 customers lose power during the storm. By Tuesday afternoon, the company had restored power for nearly 607,000 — 96 percent of the impacted customers.

According to Smore, several pockets of severe tree damage remain in Montgomery and Delaware counties.

“First and foremost, we appreciate the patience of people still without power. We understand it is so difficult to be without power,” Smore said. “Right now we are trying to get as many of the remaining customers on as quickly as possible,” said Smore.

He added that the company was hoping to get most of the customers that were still impacted back on line by Thursday, but that estimate may change as the new storm impacts the region.

“We want those customers impacted by Riley — we haven’t lost sight of them and will track them as the next storm arrives,” Smore added. The goal will be to get those customers back in service as quickly as conditions allow.

Met-Ed had 230,000 customers across its service area lose power. By Tuesday afternoon, the company had restored power for 207,000 customers.

In the Berks County area, all but about 75 customers had been restored to service by Tuesday afternoon, according to Met-Ed spokesman Scott Surgeoner, who added that the expectation was that all of those remaining customers would be restored by Tuesday night.

The utility still has some issues in other areas however, specifically in Pike and Monroe counties, affecting about 20,000 customers. Surgeoner said the company expected to have some of those customers back in service by Tuesday evening.

Both utilities have extra crews working to supplement their employees. According to Smore, PECO had 1,500 extra personnel on the ground from the utility’s sister company ComEd in Illinois, as well as crews from Louisiana, Texas and Georgia. Surgeoner said Met-Ed has crews assisting from its First-Energy sister companies in western Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as crews from Tennessee and Canada.

So how do utilities tackle major storm damage restoration? How do they prioritize the work they do?

According to both utilities, the first restoration priorities include public safety and critical care facilities, such as 911 centers, hospitals and pumping stations. From there, restoration is scheduled so that the greatest number of customers can be restored as quickly and as safely as possible.

According to PECO, in cases of extended power outages, consideration is also given to customers who have been without service for the longest.

“We work to restore down the line — and continue to prioritize from largest to the smallest. We can’t do the work to restore a customer at the end of the line if there is not power in the lines for that customer,” Smore said.

Surgeoner echoed the list of priorities.

“So we work on the transmission, sub-transmission and then the distribution circuits. Several days out, we are left with single customers for the most part,” he said.

Smore added that it might take the same amount of time to restore 1,000 customers as it does to restore 10.

Of key concern, according to Surgeoner, is safety.

“Our crews work 16 hours on 8 off, and many of them have been going at it for several days. We want them to stay focused on their primary task of restoring power as quickly as possible, and to do it safely. This effort is successful if no one is injured,” he said.

“We know that safety is number one first and foremost. So whatever it is — any type of work our crews are doing they have to keep safety as number one. We place a high value on keeping employees, contractors and the community safe,” Smore added.

Each electric utility has a plan for restoration, according to Nils Hagen-Frederickson, spokesman for the Public Utility Commission. The plans, he said, are a balance.

“They balance the needs of critical facilities — through discussions with the facilities themselves — with the rest of the customer base to safely and quickly restore power to as many customers as possible,” Hagen-Frederickson said.

He added that there is a reason and method to the plans, “aimed at safety and aimed at speed. It has to be balanced between speed and safety.”

The forecast for the next storm calls for heavy, wet snow, without the high winds.

“That will impact our ability to move crews around and do restoration work. We’re not sure what additional outages may occur,” Surgeoner said.

“We can’t predict the weather but we’re doing our best to be prepared. We’re making sure the crews are prepared and monitoring the forecast,” Smore added.

Hagen-Frederickson said the PUC receives updates from the utilities during storm restoration. He said the agency also hears from consumers, local officials, legislators and emergency management agencies.

“We hear the frustration of people when they have been without power — we understand and respect that. No one wants to minimize that,” he said, adding that the agency does a post storm review to see if there are things that could be improved in future restorations.

PECO serves 1.6 million customers in Philadelphia and five surrounding counties including Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties.

Met-Ed serves more than 560,000 customers in southeast Pennsylvania, including Berks County.

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