More workers, winter made Feb. 5 storm Peco's costliest

A Peco lineman at work in Wayne after the Feb. 5 ice storm.
A Peco lineman at work in Wayne after the Feb. 5 ice storm. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 21, 2014

This month's ice storm was the costliest in Peco Energy Co.'s history, surpassing Hurricane Sandy in 2012, even though it knocked out 19 percent more customers.

Peco estimates that the Feb. 5 storm, during which 715,000 customers lost power, will cost between $90 million and $120 million when the final bills come due.

The recovery from Hurricane Sandy, which knocked out 850,000 customers, cost $72 million, said Cathy Engel Menendez, a Peco spokeswoman.

Peco says the ice storm recovery was more arduous because winter working conditions were more harsh. Fallen trees and wires from the ice storm closed 884 roads, compared with 305 for Sandy.

Peco enlisted 2,100 more workers to restore power this month than it did after Sandy. The costs for transporting, feeding, and paying the out-of-town workers is the major reason why the recovery was more expensive.

Peco took six days to restore all customers after the ice storm, compared with eight days after Sandy.

The utility's performance, and its communications with customers, is still the subject of criticism from online commentators and writers of letters to the editor.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which eventually will rule on how much of the costs Peco can recover in its rates, says it will review the utility's preparedness and response to the storm, including how it deployed equipment and personnel, and whether it had sufficient supplies on hand.

Peco, like most utilities, is required to prioritize outage repairs by the number of customers affected. The least-complicated repairs that affect the most customers get the highest priority.

Peco said 1,015 outages affected single customers, compared with 879 for Hurricane Sandy. Individual outages can take as much time to repair as outages affecting larger numbers of customers.

Peco was able to call on a legion of assistance from other utilities during the ice storm because the weather event was largely confined to Southeastern Pennsylvania. Peco deployed more than 6,800 workers during the ice storm recovery, compared with 4,700 in Sandy. In both storms, all but 1,200 workers were in the field.

Peco's $72 million in Sandy recovery costs is lower than 2012 estimates because other storm-ravaged utilities enlisted some of the out-of-town workers after Peco released them and assumed their transportation costs.

Another aspect of Peco's preparedness that may come under review is its vegetation management program.

The company spends about $35 million a year on tree pruning and vegetation removal along 2,400 miles of overhead wires. Peco's schedule calls for its entire 13,500 miles of aerial wires to be visited by tree-trimming crews every five years.

215-854-2947 @Maykuth

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