Reliability?

Those of you who live in more urban areas or small towns in WV may not understand me when I write about the unreliability of WV’s electrical distribution system.  Here’s the situation this morning.  FirstEnergy reports 641 customers without power in Calhoun County and 550 in Braxton County.  Calhoun’s population is just under 7000.  That means that probably 20% or more of Calhoun County electric customers are without power.

Was weather yesterday particularly severe?  The on line flood warning rain gauges in Calhoun County report about 1.3 inches of rain in the last 24 hours.  That is a fair amount, but not really that much over a full day.  There were high winds overnight, but our power went out about 7:30 pm — before high winds hit our area.

In other words, this was bad weather, but it wasn’t a derecho.

Of course, our battery back up system kicked in automatically, and we have had uninterrupted power to our critical circuits.  Our solar/battery system functioned well when our Mon Power was out for 14 days last summer, but it is most useful for these shorter (we hope) but much more frequent blackouts that have now become routine in our area.

If you rely on a gasoline generator, these shorter blackouts are worse, in some ways than larger blackouts.  First, you don’t know how long they will last.  You don’t know whether it will be worth the trouble of digging out your generator, hooking it up to your electrical system and then hoping it will start after sitting around for several months.  Your alternative is to skip taking a shower and go off to work, hoping that your power will be on by the end of the day, and your freezer and refrigerator will be all right.  Oh, and I forgot to mention, your toilets won’t flush.  That’s another reason to hope the power is on when you get back from work.  Oh, and you’ll also have to wash all the dishes from last night and this morning that you had to leave in the sink.

If our power is off for 3 hours or 10 days, we don’t have to worry about any of these decisions.  There is no disruption of our routine, except we need to use battery powered lighting in some rooms in the house.  I am typing and uploading this post on my computer system/satellite internet provider using the solar power stored in our batteries.

I am reporting all this not to complain, but to point out that in rural WV, blackouts are now relatively routine whenever moderately bad weather hits.  This is not the result of all those bad trees that the WV PSC pointed to.  It is the result of systematic under-investment in its distribution system by FirstEnergy and Allegheny Power before it.  I have seen little from WV’s Ohio-based power companies or the WV PSC to convince me that things will get any better anytime soon.  In fact, I think electrical service will continue to deteriorate for those of us who have the privilege of living in some of the most beautiful places on earth.

And don’t forget, FirstEnergy’s Tony Alexander is the highest paid electric company CEO in the US.

Update: Power still out at 10:45 am.  The phone system shut down, because Frontier is now dependent on Mon Power for their phone system and doesn’t have an adequate source of backup power in rural areas.  I run a business from my home, and not having a phone is a serious business issue for me.  And no, we don’t have reliable cell service in southern Calhoun either.

9 thoughts on “Reliability?

  1. What was it the PSC said recently… many local distribution lines are so old that they were set by hand with poles hauled in by mules? But yet… FE spent over $100M buying naming rights to Cleveland Browns stadium.

    Utilities = unreliable
    Producing your own power = reliable

    • Actually the PSC’s comment about poles set by mules displays some remarkable ignorance both about animal power and the distribution system in Calhoun County. There was a Mon Power employee who worked on lines out of the company’s Spencer office who is also a lifelong horseman. FirstEnergy regularly contracted with him as a teamster to use his team of draft ponies to set poles in the 1970s. It is quite likely that that the use of horses or mules in specialized situations would still be cost effective for distribution system construction and maintenance. Almost anything is preferable to last summer’s charlie foxtrot that FirstEnergy, Asplundh and their helicopter company performed last summer doing line maintenance in southern Calhoun.

  2. It appears as though Alexander and Evanson were pulling down compensation at a rate of more than 2.5 million per month, during the early months of 2011, all at the cost of reliability, ratepayer’s expense, and stockholder dividends. This rate of compensation, agreed to by boards of directors with conflicting interests, amounts to “only $x.xx dollars per month” on the electric bill as the utility PR justification goes. How many of those “only $x.xx dollars per month” have been passed on by the WV PSC since Evanson became CEO of Allegheny? Stockholders and ratepayers should be outraged!

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