CVPS: full electric restoration could take weeks

first_imgThe remnants of Hurricane Irene have moved out of Vermont, but not before washing dozens of utility poles and roads away and leaving Central Vermont Public Service with an army of workers unable to access thousands of customers in need.  CVPS says recovery will entail a monumental effort due to closed bridges and washouts not seen in generations. More than 55,000 customer outages resulted from the storm, with 37,500 still without service as of 7 am. Photos of Route 4 east of Rutland by Steve Costello, CVPS ‘We have a tremendous roster of workers to assist us, but this will be one of the most challenging recovery efforts any of us has ever lived through,’ said Joe Kraus, senior vice president for engineering, operations and customer service.  Kraus, who started his career at CVPS in 1980, said hundreds of crews from as far away as Illinois, Missouri, Texas and Ontario would assist CVPS’s crews, but no one at the company has faced infrastructure damage like this before.  ‘We are in uncharted territory,’ Kraus said.  ‘In many places, we can’t even get to the damage. It is impossible to say how long it will take to restore power to all customers, but many areas are totally inaccessible, roads are gone, and in some cases, it could take weeks. In areas that we can get to, restoration will likely take days.’ Kraus said it was impossible to provide any kind of reliable restoration estimates at this time but customers should be prepared for extended outages. ‘Until roads are rebuilt and bridges reopen, we will be unable to get into hundreds of neighborhoods and hamlets, particularly in central and southern Vermont,’ Kraus said.  ‘While we will work to restore service as quickly as possible, we urge customers to take every precaution to stay safe: stay away from downed power lines and anything in contact with them.  Keep children and pets away.’ A half-dozen substations were submerged in flood waters. Each will have to be inspected in detail, and electric tests will be required in some cases before they can be put back into service. Kraus said CVPS and other utilities would work closely with state emergency management officials to stay abreast of road openings and make repairs as quickly as possible. On Sunday, many CVPS workers were stranded by rising waters. Some crews had to spend the night in local offices, and other workers in southern Vermont were invited to spend the night with customers after they were trapped by flooding. ‘I’ve seen the most high-water flooding I’ve ever seen, and I hope I never see anything like this ever again,’ Operations Supervisor Chris Gandin said. Hurricane Irene brought widespread devastation to roads, bridges, private property and utility systems, presenting enormous challenges but also bringing out the best in many Vermonters.  Following are several stories from the storm. The true force of natureIn Taftsville, on the edge of Woodstock, the Ottauquechee River hammered part of a CV hydro station building and devastated controls for local distribution and transmission lines. ‘The upstream wall of the powerhouse was washed away, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg,’ said Greg White, CV’s director of engineering and system operations.  ‘There is significant water damage.  We’ll have to replace equipment and rebuild it.  ‘And this story is being replayed in several substations, including the Brownsville Sub, which serves the West Windsor and Reading areas, Rochester Sub, which serves Rochester, and the Windsor Sub, which serves Windsor and Weathersfield. ‘The true force of nature has been displayed, and it is enormous,’ White said. ‘You can’t get there from here’Dave Miller, operations supervisor in CVPS’s Brattleboro office, said the loss of roads in Windham County presented enormous frustration for workers.  ‘‘We can’t get there from here’ is the new catchphrase,’ Miller said.  ‘It’s very frustrating.  The guys want to get everyone back on as quickly as they can, but they simply can’t get to them because the roads are gone.’ In some cases, workers became trapped as high water isolated them in the field.  A tree crew working Sunday on Hogback Mountain got trapped after washouts and high water cut off all escape routes, and a utility worker in Shrewsbury was also stranded when surrounding roads were washed away. Two workers spent the night with customers after high water prevented them from leaving the area where they had been working.  ‘That’s Vermont for you,’ spokesman Steve Costello said.  ‘Disasters seem to bring out the best in people here.’ Mind-boggling damageJeremy Baker, 40, a lifelong Vermonter and CV’s manager of preconstruction, said the scope of the damage left him shaken. Baker’s role in storm planning and recovery gives him a broad overview of the problems on the electrical system and with roads and bridges.  He played a key role in the 2007 Nor’icane recovery, major ice storms and snow and wind events, but nothing compared to the intensity of damage he’s seen since Sunday. ‘It’s hard to wrap my head around the scale of the damage,’ Baker said.  ‘I have never seen anything like this, even on a localized level.  To see the damage reports in county after county and town after town, it’s mind-boggling.’‘Your heart breaks for these people’While utility crews are focused on the big picture and the nuts and bolts of power restoration, the impacts of the storm on individual customers is not lost on employees. Tim Upton, CV’s environmental affairs manager, said photos and film clips of customers’ flooded and destroyed homes affected him in ways he hadn’t expected. ‘On one hand, we’re completely focused on restoring power, but at the same time you’re seeing all kinds of sad situations, and you realize that for many Vermonters, being without service is the least of their problems,’ Upton said.  ‘Your heart breaks for these people.’ Feeding and supplying an armyWhile CV’s orange and white trucks are the most visible aspect of the restoration effort, behind the scene a logistical operation worthy of the military is in place to support field workers. In fact, retired Vermont National Guard General Matt McCoy is CV’s logistics chief.  McCoy and his team are responsible for feeding, housing and providing materials to hundreds of contract workers and CV staff during the restoration effort. Working out CV’s Systems building on Post Road in Rutland, the team oversees field food deliveries, hotel rooms and supplies ‘ all for field staff that are constantly on the move, often in places inaccessible from the outside. ‘Matt’s logistics background in the service gives us a huge leg up in trying to manage an often-confusing and fast-changing series of circumstances,’ said Cindy Fowler, director of resource coordination and McCoy’s supervisor.  Up-to-date outage numbers (by town) can be found at: http://www.cvps.com/CustomerService/outages/(link is external) and http://vtoutages.com/(link is external)CVPS offered several safety tips for coping with the outages: STAY AWAY FROM DOWNED POWER LINES. Don’t touch or even go near downed wires! These wires can be energized and can cause serious injuries or death. If the line is blocking the road or in contact with a vehicle with people inside, call your local police or fire emergency number first. Then call CVPS. Instruct others to keep at least 50 feet away, and keep pets and livestock away as well.Assume all objects touching the power line are also energized. Never attempt to remove trees or limbs from any utility lines! Notify CVPS of the situation.If using a generator, read and follow the owner’s manual before starting the generator. Never operate a generator inside any structure or near a structure. Use a transfer switch to ensure electricity is not accidentally fed onto a line where line crews must work.Keep freezers and refrigerators closed as much as possible to prevent food spoilage.If power goes out, turn off all electrical appliances except one light so you’ll know when service returns. Then, turn equipment back on slowly.Power outages, call 1-800-451-2877.Additional safety tips can be found at: http://www.cvps.com/Safety/StormSafety.aspx(link is external)When electricity goes out, the utilities’ first concern is safety, then restoring service to large blocks of customers and critical facilities, like hospitals.Who gets power restored first?When electricity goes out, the utilities’ first concern is safety.  Line work and downed lines present great risks to employees and customers, so safety is a grave concern.  Always stay at least 50 feet from downed lines!When major storms hit and outages occur, we try to restore service to all of our customers as soon as possible. Here’s a look at our priorities:Problems that present an imminent danger to life.Failure at a key point on the system affecting thousands of customers, such as a transmission line (a main highway of the power system).Critical health and public safety facilities.Main distribution lines, which are smaller than transmission lines, but may serve hundreds of customers.Single lines.Single customers.Cleanup work. Up-to-date outage numbers (by town) can be found at: http://www.cvps.com/CustomerService/outages/(link is external) and http://vtoutages.com/(link is external)Source: CVPS. 8.29.2011. 7:15 amlast_img

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