Storms take a bite out of GMPs budget
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | July 15,2013
The summer is far from over, but recent storms coupled with Hurricane Sandy last year have already put a hole in Green Mountain Power’s storm recovery budget.
GMP budgeted $7.2 million (based on a five-year average) for storm restoration work, but has already spent $11 million.
GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said the company anticipates more storms and more outages before the year is out.
Schnure said the last two years in particular have seen more than the usual number of storms and outages.
“Over the 30 some years I’ve been here there’s all sorts of weather variations but we’re all remarking that this feels fairly unusual,” she said.
There have been three major storms dating to October 2012, the start of GMP’s fiscal year.
First there was Hurricane Sandy, followed by a severe windstorm in December 2012.
Then June came along with a major storm causing outages in the St. Johnsbury and Danville areas.
But the month of June and early July had more in store for the company and its customers.
According to Schnure, for the two-week period June 23 through July 6, there were 90,000 outages — triple the average number of outages during a typical two-week period in June or July.
The storms were statewide but the company said the most severe problems were concentrated in Chittenden County and the Rutland, Montpelier and Royalton areas.
For the week ending June 29, GMP had 48,181 outages, with the average outage lasting 2.05 hours.
“One of things we found interesting too is ... in one week’s time we had as many outages as we had in Sandy,” Schnure said. “It’s just spread over the week so it’s constant, which is tough for the customers as well as for us.”
For the week ending July 6, there were 42,479 outages, which was more than the Dec. 21, 2012, windstorm, when 31,700 customers lost power. The average outage lasted 1.73 hours.
Schnure said the installation of smart grid technology has allowed the company to pinpoint outages more precisely and restore power more quickly.
GMP’s 140 line workers have been augmented by some contract electric crews. On any given day, the company also employed approximately 70, two-person tree trimming crews, from six different companies.
If storm recovery expenses during the fiscal year go over budget, Schnure said for outages caused by major storms, the company absorbs the first $1.2 million of the excess cost with the balance collectible in rates. If, however, the company spends over budget and the outages are caused by what are considered normal weather events, she said the company absorbs the excess costs.
She said a major storm is defined as 10 percent of customers affected at some point during the event and at least 1 percent are out of power for a 24-hour period.
As far as the major culprit, lightning was the primary cause of recent outages followed by trees and branches falling from outside GMP’s rights-of-way.
The company noted that ground saturation is causing trees to tip over at a much higher frequency.
In terms of prevention, Schnure said the company will install more lightning protection equipment and will continue to look at the location of power lines, including off-road line locations, the types of wire used, and tree trimming practices.