Public meeting addresses outage

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The power was off in Vevay for nearly 22 hours from Thursday, June 18th until Friday, June 19th; and after State Representative Randy Frye stepped in and asked for some answers, last Wednesday night officials from Duke Energy met the community to provide some.

At the urging of Representative Frye, officials from Duke developed a plan of action moving forward to help prevent future long outages from occurring, and to address the concerns of members of the community who suffered losses as a result of the outage.

“It’s good to see so many folks come out,” Representative Frye said to open the meeting. “It’s important to our community, and having this room full like this, it’s great. We’ve got some folks here who are going to address some of our issues that we’re having. Tonight we’ve got a specific issue that we’re going to deal with. I know that each of you are aware that we’ve had multiple power outages in this community, and some of them have lasted quite a long time.”

Frye said that the consequences of those outages are detrimental to everyone in the community; both homeowners and businesses; causing inconvenience and costing money.

He also addressed what has happened between June 18th and Wednesday night’s meeting.

“This meeting is in conjunction with myself, as well as your county commissioners and the elected officials of the town of Vevay,” Frye continued. “We got together and put our heads together and determined that there were some issues that needed to be addressed. Certainly the first was multiple power outages. Why has the power been off so much? So many times? And also such a long duration.”

Frye said that everyone is aware that the power is going to go off every once in awhile, but he said that when the power is off for a long period of time, things need to be addressed. He said that those numerous outages led him to ask Duke Energy for some specific answers.

“We asked a few questions of Duke,” Frye told the audience. “We wanted to know how many outages has Vevay had, and Switzerland County, in the last two years; and what were the reasons for those outages. One of the things that came to mind for me was, ‘We’re they all the same? Were they all vegetation? Was it always a tree falling across a line, or was it something else?”

After finding out how many outages there have been, the second thing that Frye asked to be addressed was for Duke to provide an action plan going forward that will limited the number of outages and also limit the amount of time that the power is off when it does go off.

“The next thing our group asked was, ‘When will this action plan be completed?’,” Frye said. “It’s one thing to come up with a plan, and it’s another thing to get it done. The last thing that I asked as a member of our group was, we’re aware that Vevay’s power comes from the West, over at Madison; and when that line gets interrupted, Vevay loses power. Is there another source of power that could come to the community and feed this area so when that line’s interrupted, there’s another option to feed the town.”

Frye said that when the last power outage happened, he was able to go to the site, hiking in and noting that the area is very rugged. He said that even though the area is difficult to access, possible problems still need to be anticipated and prepared for.

Chuck Whitlock, who is Senior Vice President for Midwest Delivery and Gas Operations, spoke to the crowd before taking questions.

“I like the fact that everybody turned out,” Whitlock said. “The fact that you’re all here demonstrates to me how important the service is that we provide to communities like Vevay and around the State of Indiana. There are 1,200 men and women that I have the responsibility to lead that are focused on delivering reliable and affordable power to you 24/7.

“It hasn’t happened, recently,” Whitlock confessed. “We’ve had a series of outages that have effected you all….I want to give you a little context. It will sound like excuses, and I don’t want it to be excuses. I want you to recognize that I’m going to answer Representative Frye’s questions very directly. I’m going to give you a time line, and I’ll talk to you about why the outages occurred and why it took so long for us to restore the power.”

Whitlock said that Vevay’s power is served by a transmission line that comes from the West. He said that it is the single source of power for the entire town. From that, there’s a smaller line that distributes the power out of a substation and around the community.

He said that the main transmission line is nine miles in length; and it spans across some very rough terrain, which makes access to that line difficult at times.

“On the 18th and 19th, it was exceedingly difficult because of the time of day that the incident occurred, as well as the weather that we had,” Whitlock said.

At that point, Whitlock began to answer Frye’s questions.

“The first question that the Representative asked was how many outages has the town experienced since 2014,” Whitlock said. “The answer is three. The causes of those outages were all vegetation-related. When I say vegetation-related, we think about a tree that falls into our line. And when a tree falls into our line, it interrupts the power.”

Whitlock said that the interruption can happen in a couple of different ways. He said that the first thing that Duke tries to do when there is a power outage is to attempt to ‘bump’ the line to see if power can be restored almost immediately. He said that on the 18th, there was a tree that fell across the line and caused a significant enough interruption that ‘bumping’ the line didn’t work.

He said that Duke maintains a right of way of 100-feet on the main transmission line – 50 feet on each side of the line. He said that’s land that Duke owns, and he said that Duke tries to maintain what it thinks is going to allow Duke to deliver reliable service. Along the route, there are trees outside of the 100-feet right of way that are on private property. When Duke identifies a tree that is outside of the right of way that could pose a threat, Duke goes to the landowner and asks for permission to trim or take down the tree.

The fate of the tree is solely at the discretion of the landowner.

“The last time we did vegetation management for the big transmission line was 2010,” Whitlock said. “It is our protocol is to do vegetation management on a six year cycle.”

But with the incident on June 18th, Whitlock wanted to be very clear.

“The trees that created the three outages since 2014 were outside of our right of way,” he told the crowd. “So it’s property that we don’t own, and we have to get permission to trim those lines.”

Whitlock said that on the 18th the circuit was interrupted at about 8:45 p.m., and at that time, Duke attempted to bump the line and re-energize the line, but the line wouldn’t re-energize. At that point Whitlock said that Duke dispatched a crew to Vevay, and that crew started to go up the right of way in an attempt to locate the problem.

“It was about Midnight that the supervision made a decision that it was too dangerous for the crew to continue, so we ceased activity around Midnight that night and pulled the crew,” Whitlock said. “We felt that the safety of the crew was jeopardized, and it was still raining and difficult to see the line. Our plan was to fly a helicopter that next morning and find out where the outage was and go to see what work we had to do.”

Whitlock said that at 6 a.m. Duke tried to dispatch the helicopter, but it was restricted from flying because of the weather. Once the helicopter was allowed to fly, the location of the problem was located and a crew was dispatched; with the power being restored about 21 hours later.

“I tell you that information just to give you a little bit of context around what was behind the specific, most recent outage,” Whitlock said. “But the other two outages that occurred were vegetation-related again, and all of the trees that fell were outside of our right of way. So you can see that there’s a trend.”

Whitlock said that the logical question for everyone is, “What is Duke going to do about the trees outside of its right of way?

“We have actually dispatched our crews to actually walk the 34KV line, and we found 50 what we define as ‘hazard trees’ that our outside of the right of way,” Whitlock said. “We have removed 22 of those trees, and within the next six weeks, we will find more trees. The trees that we find that are hazards, as well as the other 28 trees that make up the 50, will all be removed within the next six weeks.

“So what you should hear me say there is, we are about fixing the trees that are outside of the right of way that have caused the three outages since 2014,” Whitlock continued. “And six weeks is the answer to the question about when we’re going to have that sorted out.”

Whitlock said that as crews walked the line, they also found some infrastructure problems that Duke will also be addressing in the next six weeks.

Whitlock then moved on to talking about alternative feeds coming into Vevay if an outage does occur.

“I can tell you that this is a more complicated issue,” Whitlock said. “We have Markland station at the Markland Dam up the river, and we have opportunities to review. This is all about reliability, and to spend for reliability, we’ve got to do a lot more work to figure out which ones of those are applicable.”

Whitlock said that as of the meeting he was not prepared to talk about things like bringing in another line; but he did say that Duke does have partnering agreements with companies like Hoosier Electric.

“We have more work to do around that, and we’re going to do the work and follow up and let you know what we find out about it. That’s going to be forthcoming.”

And Whitlock said that there was another, important thing that the crowd of over 160 people needed to hear from him:

“One, I’m sorry. Two, I love the fact that you’re here because it tells me how important the work is that the 1,200 men and women that I have responsibility for, the work that they do; and I think they do a good job. Most importantly, I want you to hear that we’re doing things, and in the next six weeks, we’re going to be in a better situation to make sure that you have reliable energy.”