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Derecho damage hammers utilities

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The June 29 derecho cost West Virginia's largest power providers a combined $172 million, according to new filings with the state Public Service Commission.

On July 20, the PSC launched an investigation into utility companies' response to the storm, which left hundreds of thousands of residents without power, some for up to two weeks. Many also lost water and phone service.

As part of the investigation, the commission asked 11 utility companies to submit reports on storm response and any changes being considered to improve responses to future storms.

The utilities filed the reports on Monday. They detail the extent of the damage from the massive storm.

Mon Power and Potomac Edison, both subsidiaries of First Energy, responded to more than 306,000 outage-related calls following the storm.

The companies reported more than 11,500 locations with downed wires or other hazards. Crews repaired or replaced 1,479 power poles, 135 miles of wire and 1,026 transformers.

While those were mostly spot repairs, the companies said what set this storm apart was the damage to their power transmission system.  

"Normally, transmission, which carries the bulk power supply from the generating stations, is not severely affected by the storms," the filing said. "In this case, the transmission and sub-transmission systems were greatly damaged and had to be repaired first in order to get the bulk power to the distribution substations to deliver electricity to smaller distribution feeder lines."

All of those repairs came at an extensive cost.

"The current estimated cost to restore service in West Virginia is approximately $110 million," Mon Power and Potomac Edison's filing said.

Appalachian Power reported that repair efforts have so far cost the company $62 million in West Virginia alone.

That's about $6 million more than company officials estimated last month. At that time, the company also estimated its spending on repair efforts in Virginia at $38 million.

Appalachian Power reported about 585,000 customers without power at the height of the storm. Like Mon Power, Appalachian said the storm caused heavy damage to its transmission system

Company crews had to repair or replace 1,184 power poles, 575 transformers and 172 miles of wire.

Other utilities also saw high costs.

Frontier Communications' estimate for damage repairs is $5.8 million, although the company said the figure could go higher.

West Virginia American Water reported $750,000 in storm-related repairs. The water company also said it's preparing to spend $750,000 on additional upgrades to reinforce its current system.

Both said the theft of generators following the storm was a complicating factor.

"Frontier had 20 generators stolen with only five being recovered by the West Virginia State Police," that company's filing said.

Going forward, major utilities don't foresee significant infrastructure changes.

However, they are planning to address some of the specific, unforeseen problems that complicated response efforts.

That includes identifying more staging areas for crews and more housing options for out-of-area crews brought in to respond to the storm and working more closely with communications providers so they can stay in touch with crews.

Mon Power said it also would work with retailers and state officials to come up with plans for delivering water and ice to affected areas. The lack of those essentials was a significant problem for residents following the storm.

Appalachian Power said it also would work to find better ways to bring in additional help for emergencies. That could include creating a network of retired utility workers to assist in repair efforts.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148.

 


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