Spokeswoman Jeri Matheney noted that as a result of a commission ruling, the company just this year began recovering expenses from a 2009 snowstorm. Appalachian Power is collecting about 14 cents more a month from its residential customers and will continue to do so for eight years.
Patton said, "I don't want to trivialize someone else's expenditures, but when you look at the number of customers we have (about a half million in West Virginia) and the time the state Public Service Commission gives us to recover expenses, that's what we're really talking about: 14 cents a month over eight years. That's the cost of getting thousands of resources in to restore us as quickly as possible."
Another difference: About 60 percent of the derecho's impact on Appalachian Power occurred in its West Virginia service territory, while about 40 percent was in Virginia. About 80 percent of Sandy's impact on Appalachian Power occurred in its West Virginia footprint "because Virginia didn't get the big snow," Patton said.
As for fallen trees, "the net result was the same, just different causes," he said. "With the derecho, high winds caused trees to break. With Sandy, it was heavy snow and a heavily saturated ground that caused trees to be uprooted. The results were the same.
"In storms of these magnitudes, I can't emphasize enough that trees outside our right of ways are a problem," he said. "When a tree on a hillside decides to fall, it typically does more damage because it often falls with more force and momentum and is falling a longer distance than trees that fall in the right of way."
On the subject of experiencing two major storms in one year, Patton said, "We're concerned that we are seeing more storm activity, and we've looked at a number of studies that suggest we're in a period of time, for whatever reason, when there seems to be a little more major storm activity.
"So it will continue to be important that we educate the public, work on our processes, and coordinate our processes with emergency and relief agencies."
Appalachian Power does not currently have a "trim cycle" - a set number of years during which it clears all of its right of ways of trees. Instead, the company tries to identify high-risk areas and areas where the company's executives believe reliability can be most significantly enhanced.
Patton said he would like to establish a four-year trim cycle.
The company currently spends about $15 million annually on tree trimming. Appalachian Power has estimated a four-year cycle would cost an additional $25 million a year for about five years, with the additional cost dropping back to $17 million or $18 million a year thereafter.
The company figures a four-year cycle would increase the average residential customer's bill by about $1 a month for five years and would then drop to about 48 cents a month.
But even a four-year trim cycle won't help when huge storms hit, Patton said.
"Here's a data point: First Energy (which serves the northern half of West Virginia) is on a four-year trim cycle. But (following Sandy) we got our service back before they did!
"They're doing a great job; they just have more remote areas at higher elevations," he said. "The point is, the trim cycle doesn't matter when you've got trees, root balls, coming down the mountains."
Contact writer George Hohmann at busin...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.