Electric utilities urge safety, social distancing during current storms in South, East Coast

Published on April 13, 2020 by Kim Riley

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Easter Sunday storms continued Monday to rip across the South and East Coast disrupting and dismantling electric lines, as public utility linemen diligently worked to restore power to thousands of customers experiencing outages.

Amid both the downed lines, broken poles and the spread of COVID-19, companies are reiterating the need for both safety and social distancing by keeping at least 25 feet away from downed power lines and not approaching linemen as they make repairs.

“Safety is our top priority,” noted the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), which represents U.S. investor-owned electric companies. “While our crews continue to work in our communities during this time, we understand that people may want to ask questions or thank them. Please remember the importance of practicing social distancing so all remain healthy and are able to be there for all of us.”

Kentucky Power late Sunday night reported that a severe line of wind and rain tore through the eastern part of the state causing widespread power outages and damage to electrical facilities.

“At the peak, more than 59,000 customers were without power. As crews assess damage and restore power, they are finding dozens of broken poles and numerous spans of wire down. Some roads are inaccessible due to downed trees and rockslides,” according to Kentucky Power, which said it continues “working closely with local emergency management teams to address accessibility issues.”

However, as winds continued today, Kentucky Power noted that additional outages could occur throughout the day. “For everyone’s health and safety with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, please do not approach power company personnel in the field,” said the company in a statement.

Alabama Power reported today that storms traveled east through much of the state on Sunday, dumping rain, hail and spawning isolated tornadoes, impacting more than 300,000 of its customers as high winds snapped lines and power poles.

“Alabama Power crews are working to restore service in areas where it is safe to work,” according to a company statement. “At 7 a.m. Monday, power had been restored to more than 185,000 customers; 118,000 customers remain without power. Crews will continue to work to restore power as quickly and safely as possible, following state and federal public health guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic. The company is also asking the public to help maintain a safe social distance of 6 feet from crews and company representatives working in the field.”

In Jackson, Mich., Consumer Energy, which has more than 71,000 miles of electrical distribution lines and serves more than 6.7 million Michigan consumers, at 2:12 p.m. today reported that high winds were predicted in the area that may cause downed wires and power outages, and listed several suggestions for consumers, including how to protect their electronic equipment, limit phone calls and how to ensure food stays safe, among other tips.

“Downed wires can be deadly,” according to the company’s website. “If you see a downed wire, please stay at least 25 feet away from it, and anything it is touching. Once you’re safe, call 9-1-1. Then call us at 800-477-5050.”

In Maine, where high winds and heavy rains are expected Monday afternoon, Emera Maine is focused on keeping the public safe and asking customers to prepare for weather-related power outages.

The state’s second-largest electric utility said, “With COVID-19 remaining a threat, we strongly advise people not to approach line workers and other personnel in the field. More than ever, we need to focus on the safe restoration of service, and we offer this direction for the safety of the public, our workers and the electric system.”

And in a tweet today from Pennsylvania Power, which serves 160,000 customers in the state, the company said, “Our meteorologists are continuing to track today’s storm system + our crews are prepared to respond to any outages. High winds can down poles, wires and trees. STAY CLEAR of all downed or low-hanging power lines! Always assume they are energized + dangerous. Use extra caution where power lines are tangled in trees or debris.”

According to EEI, every electric company has a detailed plan for restoring power.

Entergy Corp., for instance, which delivers electricity to 2.9 million utility customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, has a Storm-Restoration Process that proceeds in a specific order, according to the company.

After a storm, Entergy assesses damage to electric equipment to determine corrective actions; works to restore power plants, which are the primary source of power production; repairs transmission lines; restores power to emergency services; restores to areas with the largest numbers of homes and businesses; and then lastly, restores individual services, “often the most time-consuming repairs,” according to the company’s six-point plan.