For officials at Duke Energy, last week’s 21 hour power outage is something that they understand the gravity of, and are vowing to do everything in their power to keep it from happening again.
Chip Orben, District Manager of Duke Energy based in Columbus, said that things went dark on Thursday evening at 8:44 p.m., when the first reports of an outage began coming in.
“The storms were coming through the area, with some pretty heavy rain and winds,” Orben said. “That’s when the outage first kicked off. We finally restored served at about 5:45 p.m. on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately, and again we apologize – it was certainly a much longer outage than we would ever hope would happen.”
Orben said that Duke used a helicopter to help find the spot causing the outage, something that the company does at different times, but before the helicopter could get in the air, the weather needed to cooperate.
“We were hampered by the weather originally because of the low ceiling and the rain,” Orben said. “The helicopter couldn’t fly the line, keeping in mind that this particular circuit leading into the Vevay area is located in a heavily wooded area, kind of dense forest line. Not necessarily easily accessible by road. It made it even trickier for us, because there was so much rain. Slipping and keeping safety in mind. It was very hard to find the exact locations of the outage.”
Orben said that once the weather did break at about noon on Friday, Duke was able to get the helicopter in the air and begin to search for the problem.
“We did discover actually two areas of tree damage, that were about a mile apart, again in a very remote area that was not accessible easily by the main roads,” Orben said.
Orben said help from local officials, including County Commissioner Steve Lyons and Switzerland County EMA Director Chris See, helped Duke workers with knowledge of the terrain in the area, which was near Posten Road.
“The original access point was not going to work for us because of the high water levels,” Orben said. “Steve Lyons and Chris See brought out some maps, and we were able to best determine a better route into the area to get our equipment in there to get things taken care of. We had several crews there, as well as tree trimming, just waiting to find out where the isolation was, so we could get in and make the necessary repairs. That local knowledge was certainly appreciated by our folks.”
Using alternate routes to the circuit, Duke workers had to wait on tree trimmers to clear some of the area before linesmen could get in and fix the issue. Not having a clear route to the problem compounded the level of danger for the electric workers.
“It is certainly an inconvenience, but they are certainly trained on how to get in and make the necessary repairs on the ground,” Orben said of his linesmen. “They have to carry the necessary equipment in. The tree trimmers went in first to remove the trees, then our line personnel actually sectionalized things, and then brought everything back up. It hampered the ability to get in there, obviously; but we did what we needed to do in the most safe manner that we could.”
As to what caused the trees to fall and bring down the power lines – heavy storms or otherwise — Duke is still investigating just what happened.
“I believe that were probably brought down by the storm,” Orben said. “We’re still investigating that, but that area had received in excess of four inches of rain, and I think the ground was so loose, it wouldn’t be unusual for trees, due to the weight, to just topple over. I believe the winds played a factor in that, as well, but we’re going to have to look at all that and go from there at this point.”
So what is Duke’s response to the conversation around the Vevay community that line maintenance – or lack of it – was a contributing factor to this outage?
“I think that, in relation to that, what it’s causing us to do is really take a much closer look at increasing the tree trimming and the vegetation management of that line feeding the community itself,” Orben said. “That process is already in motion to get out and really step up the vegetation management and tree trimming on that particular circuit.”
Orben said that he is aware that State Representative Randy Frye is facilitating a meeting between Duke, County officials, Vevay officials, and the community; and that Duke looks forward to being a part of that meeting and hearing the community input.
“Our legislative folks have been in contact with Representative Frye, and it’s been a good, healthy dialogue from that standpoint,” Orben said. “We’re trying to put together the necessary mechanics to understand what type of meeting makes the most sense. I know Representative Frye was down there on Friday with the crews, getting a better understanding of what we were dealing with down there.”
As for the line itself, Orben said that the circuit is operational and “right where it needs to be” currently; but noted that Duke is looking at it very closely.
“We’re taking a much deeper dive into it, recognizing that number one, we’re going to increase the tree trimming and the vegetation management on that particular circuit to try and clear that away,” Orben said. “But that’s just the first step. We are looking at additional steps to be able to further increase reliability to the community from that standpoint.”
And can something positive rise from this latest issue?
“I think our ongoing evaluation of this particular circuit and an increased emphasis on our part to increase the reliability into the community will certainly reduce the number of potential interruptions that the community experiences,” Orben said. “We want to listen and learn.”
And moving forward?
“We’re going to do a detailed evaluation of the outage history of the area and really look at what we can do to help prevent future interruptions down there,” Orben said. “We do recognize that the number that we’ve had on that particular circuit is above our norm, and we’re just apologetic that it took us that long to get everybody back in service last Friday.”