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Storm aftermath: Dominion Power on Virginia power outages

Powerful storms wreak havoc in region
Powerful storms wreak havoc in region

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David Botkins
Dominion Virginia Power
Friday, August 6, 2010; 12:00 PM

About 35,000 customers in the Washington area remained without power early Friday after a powerful thunderstorm downed trees and power lines Thursday afternoon. About 16,000 of the outages were in Northern Virginia, with nearly as many in Prince George's County.

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David Botkins, director of media relations at Dominion Virginia Power, was online Friday, Aug. 6, at Noon ET with the latest on the power outages in Virginia caused by last night's storm.

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David Botkins: Hi, David Botkins here with Dominion Virginia Power to answer your questions today...

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Falls Church, Va. (Fairfax County): In my community, the outage map shows that 18 customers are affected (which is a low estimate because my whole community -- Yarling Court -- is without power and there are at least 100 condos there). How are you prioritizing your work? Areas where most people are affected? When do you anticipate that all power will be restored?

David Botkins: Thanks for your question. This storm affected our entire service area. You must be referring to our on-line outage viewer map...the color dots indicate outages as you drill down into neighborhoods. You are right about the priorities, we try and get to areas where we can get the most folks back on at once -- after we get critical infrastructure back on first. Most of Fairfax will be back on today and tomorrow. You can call 1-866-DOM-Help to get a specific restoration projection.

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Reston, Va.: What is the cost benefit ratio of underground wiring versus overhead electric wooden poles? In other words if underground means fewer outages and above ground means more, how many years does it take to make up the cost of the changeover based on the average cost of the crews to fix outages? I was told it costs $3000 per house to go from overhead wiring to underground. True?

David Botkins: Undergrounding is very, very expensive. It can help with outage reduction, but when outages do occur repairs take much longer -- generally, because of access issues. Studies have been done by the SCC on that. Thanks for the question.

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Arlington, Va.: What is your timeline for addressing all of the downed trees and power lines? I have a 30' limb on the ground laying on a power line in my backyard. I've reported this already, but wondering when this might be fixed.

David Botkins: I can tell you that our crews have been and will continue to work around the clock to get lights back on -- as quickly and safely as possible. We've called in crews from out of state to help with the effort. Many folks will be back on today, tomorrow. Alexandria is worst hit.

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Alexandria, Va.: I have called twice (last night and again this morning) to report a downed line in a downed tree. The tree is blocking my street, but the city can't remove the tree until the power line is taken care of.

What is Dominion's estimated time to have all downed power lines resolved?

David Botkins: Thanks for reporting that downed line/tree. Safety is most important. Stay away from it, until our guys or tree contractors arrive and take care of it. Although many folks were restored last night, many will be today, and some into tomorrow. There could be some outages in Alex lingering into Sunday. We are working hard.

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2010 Outages: So far, I have been lucky with only one or two very short power outages (less than a minute each) this year. But, I know that many others have not been as fortunate. Is 2010 worse than past years? Did the heavy snowfall we saw over the winter set things up to be worse this summer or would things have been just as bad the past few weeks if we hadn't gotten the heavy amounts of snow?

David Botkins: The snow storms from the winter are really independent of the summer storms we've experienced as far as outages go...heavy snow on limbs can cause outages when they (limbs) fall on lines...summer threats include lightning/heavy winds...we never know -- but are always prepared to respond. If you have an outage, please call us at 1-866-DOM-Help, so we get to you. Thanks!

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At least you're not Pepco!!: Though, I guess it is your turn. Sorry you have to put up with all the angry people.

David Botkins: We appreciate our customers! We're in it together.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi,

Just wondering if there's any information or timeline for power to be restored in Old Town. Thanks.

David Botkins: No later than Sunday...call 1-866-DOM-Help to get your individual restoration time...most will be on Saturday. We're on it!

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Alexandria, Va.: Will the City of Alexandria (particularly those on E. Glebe) be likely to have power back on today?

(I live on E. Glebe).

David Botkins: We are really focusing hard on Alexandria because it was worst hit in NoVa just got word there may be a press conference w/city officials around 3PM...confirm w/them.

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Del Ray, Alexandria, Va.: Is there a phone number or a Website where we can check when our power is estimated to go back on?

David Botkins: www.dom.com -- click the red bar at the top, and look for the Outage Viewer tool...that will give you neighborhoods, etc. After that, call us...1-866-DOM-HELP. We'll have very specific times for individual customers approx 4PM. Generally now we know we'll have lots of folks on today and tomorrow.

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My favorite thing about power companies: is seeing on the news how linemen from other regions come to help us repair during emergencies and we do the same for them.

David Botkins: The utilities Mutual Aid Agreement is a great thing. We all help each other. We served in Katrina and lots of other places...We got lots of help (22 utilities) during Isabel in 2002...remember that?! 1.8 million out.

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washingtonpost.com: Dominion

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Alexandria, Va.Hello! In the media coverage I've seen so far, nothing mentions lack of running water for some folks. My entire high-rise apartment building has been without running water since yesterday afternoon. (Apparently our water service is tied to the electricity - I didn't learn that until now!)

The latest estimate I'm hearing is that we won't have water until 10:00 tonight at the earliest. I can survive without electricity, but it's pretty brutal not to be able to flush a toilet or have any running water for so long! Reminds me of my days of military training out in the field.

I'm hoping, if Dominion has any kind of priority list, that they'll consider people with no running water for the top of the list! Thanks.

David Botkins: Noted. Thank you!

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Alexandria, Va.: I live in the Beverley Hills area of Alexandria, which was heavily damaged by the storm. Any estimate on when we might get power restored? An estimate would at least allow us to make plans for our young children.

David Botkins: Have you reported your outage? If not, please do, at 1-866-DOM-HELP. That's step #1. Next is, Alexandria was the worst hit. We have 188,000 customers served out of that district office, and 56,000 lost power. We worked all night, will work all day and night today -- to get finished up. Damage was heavy there. You can get a detailed time estimate about 4PM at the phone number I provided above. Hang in there. (I lost power at my house in Richmond last night as well.)

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Falls Church, Va.: I have called your telephone number several times to get an estimate of when power will be restored. The recording does not give a time and only says that you are working on it. How can you refer customers to this number when there is still no information being given so we can plan?

David Botkins: 4pm is when hard estimates for individual customers will be available.

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David Botkins: I really appreciate all these great questions. Regretfully, where I'm sitting at my computer I don't have all the details regarding specific outages in specific neighborhoods...let me say this: Dominion Virginia Power is committed to getting our customers lights back on. Quickly, safely. We take that job very seriously. We appreciate our customers. Please visit www.dom.com for good outage info -- and call us to report an outage or downed line/tree at 1-866-DOM-HELP. We're in it together.

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Del Ray, Alexandria, Va.: Any estimates on when power will be restored in Del Ray? The neighborhood was very hard hit, but when I call the DOM HELP number, it just says that many people are without power.

David Botkins: You are right...Del Ray was hit very hard. I'm showing 16,912 customer out in Alex overall...188K customers served by that district office. Look for restoration to push into tonight and tomorrow. In some extremely damaged areas it could be Sunday morning. We won't rest until every light is on.

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Lake Havasu City, Ariz.Good Morning David,

Does your company offer any discounts or rebates for customers who have Emergency Backup Power Generators?

David Botkins: Hi Arizona...we don't have discounts or rebates for folks with generators...Does your local utility offer that?

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Alexandria Resident: I have spent a great deal of time in east-central Canada, which receives well over quadruple the annual snow-load and 50 percent more annual rain-load than Northern Virginia. They never have outages, and outside Toronto nearly no lines are underground. DOM-VEPCO simply doesn't do its job. That's why we have all the outages, averaging once each 17 days in Alexandria.

David Botkins: I'm sorry you feel that way. We work hard to provide the best, safest, most reliable service possible. What Alexandria and NoVa experienced last night was unusual in devastation -- 70 mph winds, extreme volume of lightning strikes...Canada would have had outages also. Thanks for your comments.

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washingtonpost.com: This concludes our discussion with David Botkins today. Thank you for joining.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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