Storms Create Massive Power Outages

On December 1, 2006, a monstrous ice storm hit the Midwest, and 500,000 customers of Ameren Corporation, the electric utility for the affected Illinois and Missouri residents, lost power.

The utility was able to restore a large portion of its customers’ power relatively quickly, but it took more than a week to restore all of the affected areas. According to Ameren, some customers had to call on electrical contractors to repair their meterbase, weatherhead or point of attachment before Ameren could restore power.

By the end, Ameren had called on thousands of electrical workers from 14 states to work 18-hour shifts to repair and install an estimated 391 miles of wiring. It is the biggest work force contingency Ameren has ever mounted to battle a power outage.

“We believe we’ve thrown every possible resource into this,” said Susan Gallagher, Ameren spokeswoman. She also commented that the amount of cable and wiring repaired and replaced over the week-long repair effort was more than the company normally uses in six months.

Despite its efforts in this unprecedented storm, many are criticizing the utility. Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt is asking that Ameren develop a clear plan of action in the event such a large blackout reoccurs.

Due to the number of customers without power, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich declared 49 counties disaster areas on Dec. 7, a week after the storm hit his state. He asked President Bush to declare them federal disaster areas and is hoping for a presidential disaster declaration.

At least 23 deaths were blamed on the storm and the resulting power outage with causes ranging from traffic accidents to exposure.

Of course, ice isn’t the only culprit that causes outages. Two weeks later, wind gusts of up to 80 mph from a violent rain storm left more than 700,000 electricity customers across Washington State and 323,000 customers across
Oregon without power.

Puget Sound Energy (PSE), the most affected utility, reported that it was possibly the worst wind storm since the Inaugural Day Storm in 1993 and that the damages were so extensive that it would take a week to repair.

Most schools across the service areas closed, and officials recommended that citizens stay home because of the possibility of encountering downed power lines.

“If you can, stay home this morning,” said Ted Trepanier, state traffic engineer. “If you don’t have to drive, don’t.”

Perhaps because of observations of Ameren’s difficulties during the ice storm that affected Illinois and Missouri, PSE began mobilizing all of its crews in advance and called in additional help from other areas, some coming from as far away as Nevada, California and Canada. To start, it had approximately 185 two- to four-person repair crews on hand, which grew to approximately 500 crews as more came to help.

Despite the manpower and effort, PSE customers were not all restored a week later.     EC




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