Rodney Blevins, vice president of electric distribution operations for Dominion Virginia Power, said the weekend’s storm caused the third-worst outage in company history. It is the only one of its five largest mass outages not caused by a hurricane, he said.
The aftermath compelled utilities to focus first on restoring power to critical sites — hospitals, emergency services and the lines that are the backbones of the system and distribute power to substations that, in turn, feed miles of lines headed to thousands of customers.
As they focused on those priorities, local utilities also found themselves competing for outside crews to supplement their workforces in a pool already strained by similar calls from power providers along the path of storms that cut from Chicago to the Atlantic Ocean.
Baltimore Gas and Electric, Dominion Power and Pepco each had put out a call for 1,000 added workers in appeals to other utilities, officials said. Dominion had its extra 1,000 committed by midday Sunday. BGE had about 900, while Pepco had about 580, spokesmen said.
Those crews will push out to local levels this week.
To customers still sitting in sweltering darkness “downstream,” in utility-speak, as temperatures hovered near triple digits, explanations of how power gets to their homes undoubtedly sounded more aggravating than enlightening. Many people used generators for electricity, and authorities warned against using them indoors or near windows.
Pepco explained that it would take until Friday to get 90 percent of its customers restored. The utility wouldn’t even venture an estimate on the final 10 percent until Wednesday. BGE officials also said it would take most of the week to get all the power running. Dominion officials said most customers would have power by Tuesday, though everyone will not have electricity restored until the weekend.
In any event, two days after a major storm is too soon to know how well utilities are handling the challenges of restoring service. It is also too soon to tell whether the extensive recent tree trimming and improvements to equipment will help the response of Pepco, whose past performances leave it under continuing scrutiny by customers and regulators who are weighing Pepco’s pending rate hike requests in the District and Maryland.
Detailed reports that enable comparisons among utilities hit by the same storm are filed to state regulators weeks after an event. They offer a narrow look at performance during a major weather event. And even when they have been completed, it is hard to compare a utility’s post-storm surge to its day-to-day performance on clear days that, in more comprehensive reliability studies, left Pepco ranked near the bottom in keeping the power on and bringing it back once it goes out, an analysis by The Washington Post found in 2010.