Mon Power rep discusses power restoration process at Pocahontas LEPC
John Norman is the External Affairs Manager for Monongehela Power for 13 West Virginia counties, including Pocahontas. Norman was on hand at the Pocahontas County Local Emergency Planning Committee meeting on Sept 17th to give an overview of what happens when an outage occurs in our area.
To understand where First Energy and Mon Power are now, we have to go back 3 years to a fateful event that changed the perception of many in the utility business.
“First Energy, even though Mon Power fought that, the merger occurred two months before the derecho,” said Norman. “The storm was the first storm we worked under their process – not a good storm to learn their process on. And the good news is they learned a lot about us too, because their based in Akron [Ohio]. They didn’t know a whole lot about West Virginia before that storm, so that was a good thing.”
For instance they didn’t know that cell phones don’t work in large portions of Pocahontas County, so work crews now carry satellite phones for those areas where cell service can be spotty at best. Norman said the corporate headquarters in Akron learned a lot about West Virginia residents in the wake of the derecho, especially about their can-do spirit.
“They said it looked like the biggest problem we had was safety, because West Virginians get out and get it done by themselves and we’ve all seen that,” he said, “get the chainsaws, I’ve got one in my truck, you know that’s just the way we do it, but there are safety issues with that.”
Norman explained that there was a change in the process for power restoration after the merger with First Energy. Whereas Allegheny Power would send out one crew that included multiple specialists, he said First Energy uses an award-winning process that sends out expert crews in waves when responding to an outage. The first wave is safety inspectors who identify a problem area and tag it for work crews. Norman explains what happens next.
“The second thing you’re going to see is people come through and they do damage assessment,” said Norman. “And what they’re doing is ‘we need three poles, so much wire, we need so many transformers’ and they radio that back in, and then they leave. Third time comes in, it’s called Isolate and Restore, and what they do the crew comes in and they see ‘well I can get it “hot” up to here and “hot” up to there, this middle stuff is bad news; they isolate that bad section, restore everything else then they leave.”
“That’s the third time the customer has seen us, by this time the customer is getting really annoyed. And now the 4th time the big trucks come in, so when you finally see the big ones, then you can say ‘honey, we’re going to get our power back on.”
Norman also said there are improvements to their online outage center planned for next year. Currently if you click on the Mon Power link on the First Energy website, you can trace current power outages down to the town level within each county. He said next year, they hope to have the outage information further drilled down to the street level within the areas of the county.
Mon Power has had a number of small scheduled power outages that have been used to repair and upgrade equipment this past spring and summer. They have one more large scheduled outage coming up in October that will hopefully finish this work and lessen the likelihood of outages this winter. Stay tuned to AMR for more information about this upcoming outage.