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Companies explain procedure of restoring power

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008

Sharon Wilmot's problem wasn't that she didn't have power. The problem was she said she had been told to keep her power turned off because of a tree down on the lines that carry current to her North Apollo home. She said an electric company employee told her that the line tangled in the tree could spark a fire outside of her home.

And she had no idea Wednesday when crews would remove the tree.

"I've called them three times," said Wilmot, 60. "They say they'll get here as soon as they can."

Wilmot was one of some 19,000 Allegheny Power customers still without service for at least a portion of Wednesday in the wake of Sunday's high winds.

Most of those -- 15,500 -- were in Butler County, said spokesman Doug Colafella. Duquesne Light had worked down the number of customers without power to 14,000 by Wednesday afternoon, down from a peak of 105,000 on Sunday, said spokesman Joseph Vallarian.

The state Public Utility Commission was reporting that more than 54,900 electric customers were without electricity as of 10 a.m. Wednesday, down from 300,000 when the outages first occurred and focused in Western Pennsylvania.

Duquesne Light was expecting full restoration in eastern Allegheny County by late today. Full restoration for other Duquesne and Allegheny Power customers, most notably in hard-hit Butler County, was not expected until Friday.

Restoring power to individual customers falls last on Allegheny Power and Duquesne's list of priorities, spokesmen for the companies said.

Coming first are:

• eliminating safety hazards;

• restoring power to essential services such as hospitals and police departments;

• focusing on transmission and main distribution lines to restore service to the most customers.

If the larger "upstream" lines aren't fixed first, it won't matter if broken service to individual homes is repaired, Duquesne's Vallarian said.

"It is our intent to get power restored to the largest number of customers as quickly as possible," Allegheny Power's Colafella said.

The high winds from the remnants of Hurricane Ike on Sunday caused widespread damage, and "an enormous amount" of individual cases of trouble, Colafella said.

The storm ranks as the seventh worst in Allegheny Power's history, Colafella said.

"We've got lots of people out there working as quickly as possible," he said. "There's a lot of damage. It was a very wicked storm."

The storm was the worst Duquesne Light has seen in a decade, Vallarian said.

In Butler County, Allegheny Power had more than 570 separate cases of trouble, and 86 in the Arnold and New Kensington area. The company increased its number of working crews from 55 Monday morning to 258.

Wilmot got relief at about 8:30 p.m. when an Allegheny Power crew came to clear the limbs from the loose line and reattach it.

Still, she was troubled. She said the repair crew told her that she could have kept her electricity on the whole time. She lost a substantial amount of perishables.

There has been an increase in complaints to the Public Utility Commission's consumer hotline, said spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.

The companies will have five days after the last customer is restored to file a report with the PUC detailing preparations made in advance of the storm and restoration time and procedures.

"Once we get those reports, we look to see that the utilities responded to the outages appropriately, were properly prepared and if there were any violations of the public utility code," Kocher said. "We listen to what the consumers are telling us, look at the utility reports and get a complete picture from there."

Additional Information:

When the lights go out

• Call your utility. Don't expect that others in your neighborhood have already called. For outages -- Duquesne Light, 888-393-7000; West Penn Power/Allegheny Power, 800-255-3443; FirstEnergy Co./Penn Power/Penelec, 888-544-4877.

• Check on elderly neighbors and those with special needs.

• Use a phone that does not require electricity to work, such as a cell phone or corded phone.

• Turn off lights and electrical appliances except for the refrigerator and freezer. A surge or spike could damage equipment when the power comes back on. Turn one lamp on to know when power is restored. Wait 15 minutes after power is restored before turning on other appliances.

• Use a flashlight or battery-operated lantern for lighting. Do not use candles.

• Avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer. For longer outages, place items in coolers with ice. If in doubt, throw it out.

• Do not run generators inside a home or garage. Connect equipment directly to the generator's outlets; do not connect a generator to a home's electrical system.

Source: Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission

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