Customers remember when their power is out, said Vicki Gregg, chairman of the EPB board, but they do not necessarily know or remember when it stayed on because of the Smart Grid. That was the case with the windstorm that took place across the Chattanooga area two weeks ago on March 3. That day a cold front moved through the region bringing the threat of tornadoes, but the brunt of the storm moved north and west of Chattanooga. It was the wind that followed the storm itself that did significant damage, leaving the cost of $6 million in repairs to the electrical system.
From around 2 p.m. until 10 p.m. that day, there were wind gusts of over 50 m.p.h. across the system, said Ryan Keel, senior vice president of Technical Operations, knocking down trees and power poles and causing 24,000 customers to have a “duration outage,” defined as lasting over five minutes. There were 1,000 locations needing repairs. The work to restore power to those who lost it started Friday afternoon and was not finished until the end of the day the following Sunday.
The repairs started with 100 EPB employees working on front line restoration in the field, said Mr. Keel. By Saturday another 500 people, split into 140 crews, were working to restore the system. The additional people were sent to Chattanooga from other companies around the country.
The fiber optics cable also sustained damage in around 300 locations. Repairs were done to the cable at the same time they were being made to the electrical system. The damaged cable was restored by the end of Monday.
It could have been worse. It is estimated that 16,000 duration outages were protected by the Smart Grid which can automatically restart service in seconds. The 24,000 that did occur would likely have been 50,000 without the Smart Grid. That is one of the improvements seen since the automation was put in. And it now takes less time to figure out what needs to be done. It also is estimated that a full day of restoration work was saved because of the grid, contributing to cost savings of about $1 million. A Department of Energy study of effects from the Smart Grid in 2012 showed another benefit of $25 million in savings for business that did not have to shut down during a similar sized storm.
EPB President and CEO David Wade said that this storm exceeded the threshold of damage in both Hamilton County and the state of Tennessee to be declared a FEMA Storm. If it is, EPB may get reimbursed for some of the cost required to make repairs and get the system back up and running.
Mr. Wade also said that last month letters continued to be sent to customers about video services. He said EPB did not want to surprise them with the increased cost for video. Customers always call in when there is a price increase, but this time only 160 people have called. He said the lower than anticipated number may be the result of people getting accustomed to rate increases as a way of life. When they call, he said that EPB customer service tries to help them reduce the costs. One way is to change the package they have signed up for.