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Examine state's power reliability

July 10, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

More than a week after a type of storm most West Virginians had not heard of previously swept through our state, nearly 150,000 customers remained without electric power on Saturday. In terms of size and duration, it was one of the worst power outages ever to hit the state.

A "derecho" - a storm with powerful straight-line winds - ravaged West Virginia, Ohio and several other states on June 29. At least two other bouts with rain, lightning and high winds during succeeding days added to the challenge facing utility crews.

Repair workers faced a massive task: At one time, more than 400,000 Mountain State customers were without power. A similar number in Ohio were suffering, as were hundreds of thousands in other states. Despite bringing in crews from other states, utility companies struggled to restore service.

That upset many customers, in part because the outage occurred during a prolonged, sweltering heat wave. Our pioneer ancestors may have cooled themselves with mountain breezes, but air conditioning is viewed as a near-necessity by many people now.

Other serious effects of the storms included water plants unable to run pumps, chronically ill people whose life-saving devices lacked electricity, tons of food spoiled because refrigerators and freezers were not cooling, and gasoline stations where fuel could not be obtained.

Even while the disaster - and it was just that - continued, questions about what went wrong were being asked. How could one storm disrupt electric service to so many people? Why is it taking so long to make repairs?

Of course, we can look out our windows for part of the answer: Our beautiful forests are a mixed blessing when high wind blows branches and entire trees down on thousands of power lines. Burying them underground would help, but would cost customers dearly.

As to why repairs are taking so long, refer to the answer to question No. 1, then factor in the magnitude of the outage.

Still, both state regulators and utility companies should take the disaster as their cue to reexamine both how power is delivered and how disasters such as the current one are handled. If improvements can be made at a reasonable cost, they ought to be identified and undertaken.

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