The nor’easter that struck the region Friday, knocking out service to 630,000 Peco electricity customers, was “one of the worst storms” in the utility’s history, the company’s incoming chief executive officer said Sunday.
Mike Innocenzo, currently Peco’s chief operating officer, said that fewer than 100,000 customers were awaiting restoration Sunday night, and the utility expects most of them will have service restored by Monday night. But some customers won’t get their lights back on until midweek. Peco’s online outage map, which lists expected restoration times, indicates some customers could be without service through Thursday.
Work crews from as far as Texas and Canada are traveling to Philadelphia to assist in the recovery.
“Until we get every last customer on, we’re not done, and we continue to pull in resources and work around the clock until we get every last customer on,” said Innocenzo, whose promotion to CEO at the end of March was announced the day before the storm struck. “Because restoring power to 500,000 customers in 48 hours is only comforting if you’re one of those 500,000. If you’re not one of those 500,000, we recognize that’s not very comforting.”
The nor’easter packed sustained, strong winds coupled with heavy, wet snow that caused an enormous amount of tree damage in Philadelphia’s suburbs.
“What we’ve seen is an immense amount of tree damage — not just trees damaged, but trees uprooted,” said Innocenzo. “With all that tree damage, it takes down our wires and poles.” The storm is likely to reignite debate over whether utilities should bury more power lines, which regulators have been reluctant to order because of the cost.
Innocenzo said the company anticipated the storm’s arrival, and was involved in mutual-aid conference calls for several days leading up to it to coordinate a response with other utilities. But the response was complicated because the storm slammed electric utilities from North Carolina to Maine, reducing the available pool of crews.
“You can’t ever predict it perfectly,” he said. “This one was certainly larger than I think the Weather Service or anybody predicted, not only from the magnitude and the strength, but the wide swath it cut.”
Utilities typically wait unit a storm passes and assess damage before they release any crews for mutual assistance. “Most utilities were doing the same thing we were, which was sort of holding resources pending the storm’s passage,” he said.
Four other utilities owned by Peco’s parent company, Exelon Corp. — Atlantic City Electric Co., Delmarva Power, Baltimore Gas and Electric and Pepco in Washington — also suffered damage. Needing all their workers, they were unable to release crews.
“In this case, we really had to reach out further for help,” said Innocenzo. “We’ve got crews coming in or on the ground from Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, and we’ve got some from Canada. We got some commitments from Michigan today. Generally the process is, as they clear up their areas, they become available and we’re moving them into the territory.”
The response was further complicated because utilities across the nation have sent about 5,000 utility workers to Puerto Rico to assist in the recovery from last year’s hurricanes, reducing the total available to respond to Friday’s event. Peco last month sent about 20 people to Puerto Rico.
“It’s really minor in terms of the overall numbers,” Innocenzo said of the impact of the absence of the Peco crews. “But the challenge of getting mutual assistance, it’s part of the reason why we’ve had to go wider because there are some resources in Puerto Rico.”