Chattanooga public power utility EPB has made significant progress in restoring power to customers in the wake of tornados and severe weather that recently hit its service territory.
EPB also noted that several steps are being taken to minimize the threat of COVID-19 exposure during the restoration work including providing mutual aid crews with gloves and masks.
Electric services restored to about 57,600 customers
EPB reported on April 20 that electric services have now been restored to about 57,600 EPB customers who lost power.
About 2,400 customers impacted by the original storm system remain without power and about 400 homes are too damaged for restoration until home repair or reconstruction takes place.
Working through the weekend, EPB constructed hundreds of new utility poles and re-strung about 56 miles of new power lines about 15 miles. EPB is in the final stages energizing these newly constructed line segments which is a major step toward restoring most of the customers who remain without power.
“We’re aiming to complete the power restoration from the tornado damage by Tuesday if all goes well,” said David Wade, EPB President and CEO. “We still have quite a bit of work to do to complete repairs on smaller distribution lines.”
He noted that EPB’s efforts were hampered when overnight storms and high winds caused new outages for about 500 customers. Repairs have been completed for these new outages.
In addition, EPB’s continuing damage assessments have identified more than 300 homes and businesses that have sustained such severe damage that they will have to be repaired or re-built before electric service can be restored. “Unfortunately, we expect that number to grow as we continue to assess damage to electric facilities at individual homes,” Wade said.
In an April 13 tweet, EPB noted that the tornadoes and severe weather that ripped through the area caused catastrophic damage leaving as many as 60,000 customers without power. In a recent Facebook post, the utility provided footage of the devastation.
One of the ways EPB has sped up the re-construction effort for customers is by bringing in additional line crews from other utilities through mutual aid agreements.
J.Ed. Marston, Vice President of Marketing AT EPB, said that some of the utilities providing mutual aid to EPB include: Lenoir City Utility Board; Sevier County Electric System; CEMC; Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation; Huntsville Utilities; Duck River EMC; CDE/Clarksville TN; PRECC/Cadiz KY; DES/Dickson TN; SPS/Shelbyville TN; NES/Nashville TN; Dalton Utilities; Andalusia Utilities Department; Opelika Power Services; Rivera Utilities; KUB; Sequatchie Valley Electric; and FPIA.
Utility workers cheered by family and friends
On Saturday, April 18, EPB reported that after re-supplying their bucket trucks with the materials needed to continue the effort to re-build a large portion of Chattanooga’s electric infrastructure and restore services to more customers, utility workers returned to the field before daybreak that morning as family and friends lined the street in recognition of National Lineman Appreciation Day.
“We’re proud to be doing everything we can to restore more customers on this special day,” said Wendell Boring, EPB Assistant VP Field Services. “More than 1,100 utility workers are at work across Chattanooga today as we continue the effort.”
While EPB and the utility workers who have joined the restoration are glad many people are appreciative, they are asking that people maintain a social distance of six feet, EPB noted.
“We’re having folks who want to give us a high five or bring us something to eat or drink,” said Boring. “As much as we appreciate that, for your safety and ours, please stay well away from the re-construction zones and help us follow the guidelines for health and safety.”
Marston told Public Power Daily in an email that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, mutual aid crews are:
- Provided with gloves and masks
- Advised to maintain six feet of social distance at all times
- Provided with hand sanitizer and asked to wash/sanitize hands quickly
- Provided food and other items in touchless servings packaged for each person
“We have also done extensive social media and public relations asking members of the public to maintain six feet of social distance from utility crews,” Marston noted.
EPB has re-energized three substations
On Saturday, April 18, EPB reported that it has re-energized three substations that were taken off-line by the storm, re-constructed scores of poles, and replaced many miles of new power lines.
“Unfortunately, some of the heaviest work is yet to come in the effort to restore EPB customers who remain without power,” it said.
EPB said it was still assessing the damage in some of the hardest hit areas, but according to initial estimates the work ahead will include the re-construction of at least 400 more utility poles and replacing more than 50 miles of new power lines that will need to be strung over about 13 miles of infrastructure.
EPB takes actions to help customers during pandemic
Meanwhile, EPB is also taking a variety of actions to help its customers during the pandemic.
For example, EPB has suspended disconnections and is waiving late fees during the COVID-19 crisis. Other public power utilities have taken these steps as well.
In addition, EPB has set up a webpage that provides updates and other information related to COVID-19.