Ky. delivers report on last season's costly storms

AP News
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Posted: Nov 19, 2009 5:49 PM

A report released Thursday on last season's ice and wind storms says Kentucky's utilities should not spend billions of dollars burying electrical transmission lines to prevent future mass outages.

Instead, the 180-page report by the Public Service Commission said utilities should consider fortifying some existing lines, burying power lines in new residential areas and develop a program to remove "hazardous trees" that stand outside the utilities' right of way, along with other suggestions.

The September 2008 wind storm and January ice storm caused the two biggest power outages in the state's history, totaling 1.3 million outages. The harsh winds in September were brought by the remnants of Hurricane Ike.

Tree limbs that fell on power lines and covered roadways were the main culprits. Limbs were blown from trees in September, while frozen branches were snapped off in January.

The state has attributed 40 deaths to the storms, and the PSC's report said the storms cost the state an estimated $1.2 billion in damages.

PSC officials estimated that it would cost $217 billion to put all of the state's electric lines underground. The report said by contrast, the utilities regulated by the PSC spent a total of $284 million to rebuild their electric systems after the two storms.

"Obviously with that kind of a price tag, converting all lines is neither economically nor in fact technically feasible," said Andrew Melnykovych, the commission's spokesman. "It's just simply not a doable proposition going forward."

PSC officials said in the report that utilities should also improve the ways they notify customers about the status of outage repairs. It said some utilities did not use their Web sites effectively during the outages.

Melnykovych said many people accessed the Internet during the storms through handheld devices or checked for updates at work or a relative's house.

"Obviously people are accessing the Web site even if their power at home may not be on," he said.

During a major outage, the report said, sites should be used to update the location of outages, the progress of repairs and expected wait times for customers. The report also suggested that utilities consider social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to keep customers informed. Melnykovych said Duke Energy had success using a Twitter feed to spread information during the ice storm.

The PSC sent the report to the state's utilities on Thursday and asked that they respond to the recommendations by March 1.