One year later: Derecho was costliest storm in Mon Power history

PARKERSBURG – Restoration of power throughout the state and region in the days following last year’s super storm was among the largest and costliest repair projects in the history of the Monongahela Power Co.

Todd Meyers, a spokesman for Mon Power and First Energy, said the June 29, 2012, derecho knocked out service to 357,000 West Virginia customers, or about 73 percent of the company’s state customers.

“It was among the worst storms in Mon Power and Potomac Edison history,” Meyers said. “Not only did it effect the distribution lines, but there also was an impact on the larger transmission lines. We had towers down and it impacted a lot of transition networks. Almost everything south of U.S. 50 was dark and there was so much underlying damage in the distribution network.”

The initial damage was compounded by a series of thunderstorms that rolled through the valley in the days following the derecho.

“We had some very severe thunderstorms that week, and we had another 173,000 customers impacted that week due to ongoing storms. Some went back off more than once due to the weather,” he said.

Toppled trees and downed tree limbs tore down lines and poles alike, as well as damaging transformers.

“We had to repair or replace 1,500 utility poles, 1,800 crossarms, 135 miles of wire and 1,026 transformers,” Meyers said. “The price tag on that storm was about $110 million.”

The swath of damage forced the utility to bring in workers from throughout the East Coast in order to repair and replace lines.

“We brought in so many linemen, so much equipment and materials, we had to create staging areas,” Meyers said.

The staging area for repair crews was the parking lot at Erickson All Sports Facility. Equipment was distributed there, as were meals, and due to a lack of housing portable units were brought on to the property.

Since then, “we’ve identified the need for additional staging locations. We’ve been making arrangements ahead of time so we know where we need to go and we don’t have to start from scratch,” in the event of another storm, he said.

Meyers said officials also teamed with area colleges to set up workers in dormitories and to locate food service areas. Those relationships have now been expanded to multiple colleges and even camps.

Something that worked very well, he said, was water and ice distribution centers. One center at Lowes in Vienna which was staffed by volunteers through the American Red Cross received thousands of people, some coming from other states to receive supplies.

“We are continuing to add on to those sites,” Meyers said.

Improvements in communication also have been underway, and officials have streamlined the process for reporting areas of trouble and dispatching crews.

Meyers said the utility now speaks with the National Guard on a quarterly basis to keep disaster plans up to date. Meyers said working with city, county and state crews as well as the National Guard was key to gaining access to areas in need of repairs.

“Some of those relationships didn’t exist before the derecho,” he said.

The utility recently submitted a comprehensive tree trimming plan to the state which better defines how often and where trees are maintained in order to prevent more damage during a storm.

“Mon Power spends about $30 million a year trimming trees in West Virginia,” Meyers said. “Trees are the number one culprit in power outages.”

The comprehensive plan, submitted to the state’s Public Service Commission, will help the utility better identify areas of need while controlling costs.