Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

Power mostly restored to Vinton, La. after public power utility crews pitched in

Power has been largely restored to Vinton, La., after the city was hit hard by Hurricane Laura last month. Crews from several public power utilities have played a key role in helping to bring power back to the city in an expedited fashion.

Crews from Louisiana public power utility Lafayette Utilities System (LUS), Florida public power utility Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) and Alabama public power utilities deployed in late August to assist with restoration efforts after Vinton was hit by Laura.

Alex Antonowitsch, an LUS spokesman, noted in a Sept. 10 email that Vinton is 80 percent restored.  The remainder are due to structural or electrical damage that would require the resident to have resolved, he said. 

LUS and GRU installed a 5,000 kV transformer to step down the voltage from investor-owned utility Entergy’s lower 35.5 kV line to feed Vinton. “Entergy’s 138 kV transmission lines are still down so we are waiting for Entergy to rebuild the lines. There is no timeline from Entergy as to when these will be rebuilt,” Antonowitsch said.

Antonowitsch noted that LUS currently has one five-man crew traveling every day to Vinton to assist in any additional work.

Two days after Laura made landfall and after completing restoration work in Lafayette, Greg Labbe’, Electric Operations Manager at LUS, was asked by the mayor of Vinton to oversee the restoration in Vinton.

“The damage was much worse than when we went to help out after Rita,” said Labbe’. “We are committed to see it through to the end.”

Labbe’ is a member of the American Public Power Association’s Mutual Aid Working Group.

Kevin Bihm, General Manager for the Louisiana Energy and Power Authority, noted that there were “so many facets of mutual aid that were displayed in Vinton.” Lafayette and Vinton are both member cities of LEPA.

Bihm cited the “neighbor helping neighbor” story seen through LUS personnel helping Vinton to assess damage to the system and assist city leaders in the coordination effort to restore power, as well as

APPA mutual aid line crews from various states “putting boots on the ground to restore and in some cases rebuild” the distribution system.

In addition, he noted that APPA and LEPA worked with state and federal governments to fast track needed equipment and facilities to get the lights back on as expeditiously as possible.

On a normal day, Vinton’s main substation is fed via a 138 kV transmission line, Bihm pointed out. This 138 kV line was damaged in the storm and Entergy was estimating several weeks for restoration. 

“APPA and LEPA were working on both the federal and state levels to secure a generator for Vinton so that they could power critical infrastructure” in Vinton, he said.

These efforts led to the installation of a temporary transformer that was interconnected to an energized 34.5 kV transmission line near Vinton in order to supply up to 5 MW of the total 8 MW load of Vinton.

Labbe’ and his team led the effort to construct the necessary substation structures for the installation of this transformer, Bihm said.