Questions and answers on resolving power outages
Published 11:50 am, Friday, September 2, 2011
Facing criticism over its efforts to restore electricity to hundreds of thousands of powerless customers, Connecticut's two power utilities answered questions about some technical aspects of the recovery process Thursday.
Question: How do you decide what to fix first?
Answer: Both said restoring power to vital services -- hospitals, police, fire and assets designated by towns as crucial -- are restored first.
For the remaining power outages, the utilities use pretty similar criteria.
CL&P: We start with the main distribution line that services the greatest number of people.
UI: Start with the repairs that will bring back the maximum number of customers in the smallest amount of time. A good example would be, say I have two electrical circuits that are out. If I fix one, it brings 5,000 customers back; if I fix the other, it restores 50,000. We fix the 50,000.
Q: Are there areas that are harder to make repairs in?
CL&P: Eastern Connecticut and the shoreline were the most impacted. Eastern Connecticut is highly forested and that has an impact on our ability to get to the lines. Repairing them takes a coordinated effort between a line crew and a tree crew. The linemen have to remove the line from the tree before the tree crew can remove the tree. Then the line (crew members) have to restore the line. In some cases, we're rebuilding the lines.
Q: Are areas with newer construction and newer infrastructure easier to bring back on line?
UI: Each storm is different and each town is different. The main issue was trees striking lines, but even in communities with fewer trees, a single event could create a very complicated repair.
CL&P: It's all connected, but it's a good question that can be looked into during the review process into the response.
UI: No. This is a poles and wires business.
Q: Why is it that a home on one side of the street can have power while one on the opposite doesn't?
CL&P: Your neighbor may be on a different feed or circuit. If it's with the line and circuit, that's going to affect the whole circuit.
UI: Simply the way it's fed. They might be on different circuits.
Q: Why is the power out for an entire neighborhood for a single event?
CL&P: Every home has a service line feeding power from the overhead distribution line. If there's a problem with the service line to an individual house, then the entire circuit does not need to be powered down. If it's with the distribution line and that circuit, that's going to affect the whole circuit.
UI: It's situational based, but people need to understand it's never just a single wire down that forces an entire neighborhood outage. We have a looped system, so if one line fails, we can feed power from the other. So when the power is out for all, both cables are usually impacted.
Q: Are there equipment and component shortages hindering recovery?
CL&P: Anything we've needed and haven't had, we've been able to obtain.
UI: Not at all.
Q: Why have some people who have had power restored had it shut off again?
CL&P: Sometimes what can happen is it's necessary to take down electricity on one circuit to work safely on another one that is being restored. Usually, it's for a short duration.
UI: It is not the company shutting it off. We will restore power and another tree will impact the system somewhere else.
Q: Has the infrastructure in Connecticut kept up with advances in the industry?
CL&P: Yes. We use our resources efficiently. We have an operations and maintenance plan. We also have a development planning process as communities expand to make sure we meet the needs of communities. Technology is always changing, but the company must balance cost with adoption.
UI: I would say so. We are deploying a lot of smart technology. The challenge for us is the infrastructure in the ground that requires rate base to do so. You cannot change out too much at one time.
Q: Could the system be more robust?
CL&P: Ensuring reliability is a top priority for us, but balancing cost issues is part of the process.
UI: There's no place in the country can avoid what can happened here. It's not an infrastructure issue. It's not a technology issue. With 60 or 70 mph winds with tree debris, this will happen.
Q: Should distribution lines be buried?
CL&P: That's a question that's been kicked around quite a bit. Underground lines pose their own challenges and are very, very expensive.
UI: You almost double the cost. We're not certain customers want to bear that cost. We've had discussions with the state consumer counsel and DPUC.
Q: Will people be credited for the lack of power on their bills?
CL&P: Well, one of the nice things about electricity is you're billed for what you use. ...
UI: When you don't have power, you don't have charges. We are not like some other services that folks have.
Q: Does the power company compensate people for any losses related to the outages, say the food in the fridge that had to be tossed?
CL&P: We have a claims process. Customers are welcome to file and the company will review them, but there is no guarantee of compensation for spoiled food as a result of the storm outage.