A week without power: Head of REC addresses concerns, lessons learned in historic power outage crisis

Published: Jan. 10, 2022 at 5:54 PM EST
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LOUISA COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - Hundreds of customers in rural areas such as Louisa County are surpassing the one-week mark without power.

Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s CEO John Hewa tells NBC12 investigators power should be restored for everyone by mid-week. However, concerns linger about what will happen the next time this area is hit with snow. That’s why NBC12 Investigators asked about the major takeaways moving forward to prevent this from happening again.

Hewa says their team is already learning from this historic storm.

“We know the days and the hours and the nights, particularly in these cold temperatures, are growing long and difficult,” he said.

For customers in rural areas covered by REC, this storm broke records. It was worse for the power grid than Hurricane Isabel.

“In that event, we had about 75,000 accounts off and 300 broke poles,” Hewa said. “In this event, we’re above 98,000 member-owners and consumers that were without power, we’ve already identified 600 broke poles, that number is climbing.”

NBC12 asked Hewa what can be done differently next time, and if these long outages could have been prevented.

“From every event, we have a post-action review and lessons learned and we’ll be going through that and learning what is it that we can do, regionally and with ourselves, to make sure we’re best positioned for the future,” Hewa said.

One possible solution Hewa pointed out is taking powerlines underground to avoid the destruction from trees.

“We operate a lot of infrastructure, much of it is overhead, there’s always the conversation about undergrounding,” he said. “There are trade-offs between cost and other aspects of overhead versus underground. We’re focused on the optimal design for the grid.”

REC says it is investing in the grid more than ever before, going from dumping in $70 million on its capital improvement budget to $110 million in back-to-back years.

Also, up to $14 million is going towards vegetation management, not including storm clearing.

“We are hopeful that lawmakers at the state and federal level will work to push more dollars into and make available to harden the grid and make improvements,” Hewa said.

One strategy REC hopes to revisit is deploying helicopters. The imaging coming from those choppers helped REC determine where damage was in many rural areas.

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