Three years after a massive “derecho” or straight line wind storm swept across ten states and left 4.3 million customers without electric service, including the Ohio Valley, Appalachian Power is making efforts to reduce tree-related outages.
In the wake of the derecho and “Superstorm Sandy” that struck four months later, the W.Va. Public Service Commission ordered all the state’s electric utilities to submit a plan to reduce tree-related outages. The PSC approved Appalachian’s cycle-trimming vegetation management plan in March 2014, and as part of a May 2015 rate case order allowed $44.5 million annually in cost recovery for the program. The program calls for a six-year phase-in period in which all of the company’s West Virginia distribution circuits are cleared end-to-end, after which every circuit will be trimmed on a four-year cycle.
“We’ve doubled the number of tree crews in the state as we transition to a cycle-based program, and we are currently focusing our efforts on circuits where we’ve had the most tree-related problems,” said Phil Wright, Appalachian Power’s distribution operations vice president.
Wright said workers have fully trimmed about 10 percent of the company’s circuits in West Virginia, and that customers served by those circuits are already seeing a reduction in the frequency and length of tree-related outages.
While no vegetation management plan can fully eliminate outages from major events like the Derecho and Sandy, the company’s cycle-based approach will reduce overall power restoration times and improve day-to-day reliability.
The company’s Northern Panhandle service area in West Virginia is managed by Appalachian Power as American Electric Power. Appalachian maintains nearly 22,000 distribution line miles in West Virginia, along with an additional 4,500 transmission line miles.