After being caught red-handed yesterday lying about the magnitude of damage to their high-voltage transmission system, FirstEnergy still hasn't learned their lesson.  In today's local paper, FirstEnergy has wasted ratepayers' money with a big 'ol ad featuring a photo of that crunched up transmission tower, the only one the storm actually managed to topple.  From their pictures, it looks like the failure of this one tower caused the failure of two others that self-destructed under the stress of the failure of the adjoining tower.  Despite all those rumors you may have seen flying around the social media sites that "more than 50 transmission towers" failed, none of that is true.  It's simply what FirstEnergy wanted you to think so you'd cut them some slack on repair times, and also several months down the road when they file with the WV PSC to recover the cost of repairing the storm damage from you as an unavoidable "act of God."

Take a look at FirstEnergy's "derecho" NOAA map showing storm wind speeds:

Couple this with FirstEnergy's claim that the 500kV transmission tower  that was taken down by "90 mph winds" during Friday night's storm was located in Ellenboro, along Rt. 50, between Parkersburg and Clarksburg.  FirstEnergy's own map shows that maximum gusts in that area of West Virginia were between 20 - 40 mph.  A 20 mph gust took down one of FirstEnergy's 500kV steel lattice transmission towers?  How deteriorated and poorly maintained are these structures anyhow?  It's too bad FE has already cut up and hauled away the evidence, most likely without bothering to determine the reason for the failure.  FirstEnergy is incredibly lucky that the tower which failed was located in someone's hay field, and not within the fall zone of someone's home.  Perhaps the PSC should investigate the reason for the tower failure in order to protect citizens with other FirstEnergy towers in their backyards, and certainly before approving more FirstEnergy transmission lines in the state.

FirstEnergy has neglected to tell you that they're currently embroiled in a PSC case regarding the setting of new reliability standards... and whining that it's too expensive to meet reliability standards that are expected in other states.  For some reason, FirstEnergy and AEP think West Virginia is some third world country that doesn't deserve a reliable electric distribution system that might cut into corporate profit margins.

The West Virginia Consumer Advocate filed premonitory comments in that case on June 25, just 4 days before the most recent electric reliability disaster in West Virginia.

"Recollection of the public outrage over the December 2009 outages, the repercussions from which have led the parties through the various proceedings addressing the reliability of electric service in West Virginia is all that should be necessary for ratification of the plan which best avoids a repeat of that disaster."

CAD and staff contend that these kind of widespread outages are predictable and preventable.  Will we ever know how much of the current damage was a product of poor maintenance flowing from company O&M cuts to increase profit, and how much was actually unavoidable?

CAD says it's not rocket science:
"Make no mistake:  the outages were calamitous for many of the thousands of electric utility customers affected by the snowstorm that was an entirely predictable event.  (It snows in West Virginia:  sometimes accumulations are significant; sometimes that snow is wet.  The ability to predict the type and severity of the storm that landed on West Virginia in December 2009 might involve meteorological science, but it sure ain’t rocket science.)"  

West Virginia also experiences summer storms, often severe.  Take your "derecho" and play it on Broadway, FirstEnergy!

The CAD's comments are short and sweet and I highly recommend you read them.  Staff's comments are a bit longer and a little more technical, but also worth reading if you've got a bit more time.

In 2011, the WV Legislature adopted a resolution requiring the PSC to investigate the condition of one of FirstEnergy's transmission lines in the area of the recently failed tower, and order rebuilding as necessary.  The PSC blew both the legislature and reliability issues off last year when their own staff filed a motion to require WV utilities to submit evaluations of their high-voltage transmission systems in the state.   Instead, the PSC only required FirstEnergy to file a report, as they had ordered in the TrAIL case in 2008.  How much fault does the WV PSC have in the transmission tower failure by not carrying out the recommendations of the legislature, and by not requiring our electric utilities to meet reliability standards?  Heads will roll, so FirstEnergy's fat cats are busy spinning their failure as a dramatic "act of God."

While your main concern right now may be getting your power back on and getting your life back on track, the aftermath of this massive FirstEnergy reliability failure will live on, both in your electric bill, and at the WV PSC.


07/05/2012 11:30am

They were interviewing PEPCO customers yesterday on Channel 4 and this one lady summed it up perfectly. We have 19th centurty infrastructure and we are paying 21st century rates. How true. We also listen to DC 100.3 coming to work and this morning the dee jay said that Congress may investigate PEPCO and he wanted people's feedback if they should be investigated. The comment was if they upgraded what they have, that would cut into profits, how true. And are they really concerned about the safety of their workers. Congress should investigate all utility companies no matter what the utility is. Our water went off again this morning, water company is to open at 8, I called at 8:10, went to voice mail. I demanded a call back. This is another battle I've had over the years.

07/05/2012 9:51pm

All the Investor-owned Utilities should be investigated, because they all skimp on O&M in order to increase profits. Why is there a profit stream in an essential, monopoly service in this state? If they're so concerned about the safety of their workers, they should spend heavily on proactive, preventative O&M that can be performed under better conditions, rather than require their guys to work 16 hour days in stifling heat with limited supplies all the while trying to hurry up and get to the next job. Does that scenario make a reliable system?

07/06/2012 2:20pm

Is it possible and feasible for ratepayers to file a class action lawsuit against FirstEnergy for its failure to adequately maintain its transmission highlines to ensure the reliability of service and protect property owners from collapsing towers? Same thing for the ratepayers who are "serviced" by PepCo and Dominion, since recovery from the June 29 storm is still continuing and many ratepayers are still in the dark because of inadequate O&M. Now is the perfect time to hold completely responsible the utility companies, highly paid CEOs, overpaid yet ineffectual lawyers, and shareholders for their refusal to prevent and mediate long-term power outages. Just saying.

07/06/2012 2:40pm

Sharon? Your computer finally let you make a comment? Yahoo! I'm just sorry SME and all his imaginary friends can't join us... because every village needs an idiot.

I think comments from ratepayers on the open reliability case currently before the PSC would be appropriate, as well as contacting your legislators so they can find out what the PSC did with their Resolution to investigate the condition of transmission lines (like the ones that crumpled up like a ball of aluminum foil in the face of a wind storm whose magnitude is still questionable). Obviously FE's recent report on the condition of their lines wasn't all that truthful.

07/06/2012 2:55pm

Yes, my system is now cooperating.

I realize there are "official" ways to complain about the utilities, but that really doesn't hit them in the pocketbook. We know how ineffectual the various government agencies can be. What would really make news is if hundreds of thousands of ratepayers filed class action lawsuits against the utility companies for the inconvenience, plus safety issues, caused by the extended and painfully slow recovery to the June 29 power outages. Their performance is unacceptable. This is not bashing the actual workers and linemen who have been slaving away trying to get the power lines back in service. Those people are heroes for working in this extreme heat. The people that need to be punished financially are the CEOs, high level managers, attorneys and shareholders for their abysmal policies that allow these catastrophic situations to happen in the first place. If there was justice in the world, EVERY CEO, high level manager and attorney currently working for FirstEnergy, PepCo, Dominion, etc., would be fired immediately for complete lack of leadership and for creating bad policies that have adversely impacted the ratepayers who pay their exorbitant yet undeserved salaries.

07/06/2012 3:05pm

I do like a woman who thinks big! :-)

07/06/2012 3:16pm

If you're going to dream, dream big!

It'll be interesting to see what, if anything, the politicians do about this latest fiasco. Since we know Manchin and Tomblin have their lips firmly planted on the keesters of the coal and utility companies, sadly we won't get any support from them. We can only hope the politicians in Maryland and Virginia actually do something and West Virginia benefits collaterally.


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