Utilities to share lessons learned from winter storms

Utilities to share lessons learned from winter storms
Published: May. 25, 2023 at 4:34 PM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Two major storms this past winter left thousands of Vermonters without power for days, and also in the dark when it came to timely communication from their utilities. A new state effort is underway to improve those communications before the next storm hits.

The Christmas storm of 2022 wreaked havoc across Washington Electric Co-op’s service area.

“We spent about a million dollars in six days restoring power,” said the WEC’s Louis Porter. While he says he’s proud of his crews working around the clock, he understands the frustration from co-op members. “It was a big storm for us, very inconvenient for our members,” he said.

One rough spot identified in the aftermath was communication. WEC’s main system to inform customers of outages broke down. “A number of things that complicated restoration efforts, but more importantly our communication efforts,” Porter said.

The utility, with support from others -- and the Department of Public Service -- attempted to cold call customers with the information. But it was a major challenge in WEC’s rural service area.

State officials and regulators this summer will bring all Vermont utilities to the table to talk restoration and communication. “What could have been done; what was done; what went right; what might have been done better; and what to do in the future,” explained Public Service Commissioner June Tierney.

Tierny says climate change will bring more and harder-hitting storms in the coming winters, complicating outage response. The hope is the utilities will share perspectives and gather public input for the coming winter. “What the best practices are in facing these changed circumstances are,” Tierney said.

WEC officials say those practices might look different for them compared to Green Mountain Power, given their smaller size and budget. And they say expectations from rural customers also need to be managed given their service territory. But they soon could offer services they don’t currently provide, like estimates on power restoration.

An effort for utilities to collaborate in the face of a changing climate.

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