FAIRMONT, W.Va. – It’s a memory that Allen Staggers won’t soon forget. He works in communications at First Energy, the parent company of Mon Power and Potomac Edison. He was at home in Fairmont on the evening of June 29, 2012 when the state came to a near stand-still.

“I saw the lights blink before the storm ever reached our area. That kind of gave me a clue, cause I know what makes the lights blink, that something was going on with our transmission system,” remembered Staggers. “Of course, little did I know at that time that we were in the very beginning stages of the worst storm in the company’s history.”

The 2012 derecho was like nothing anyone had ever experienced. Winds gusted at over 70 miles per hours, torrential downpours and trees toppled like toothpicks. Once the storm was over — 350,000 First Energy customers were without power. For some it would remain that way for more than two weeks.

Staggers said they immediately got to work with the crews on hand but had to call in 4,000 more workers from other areas to help restore service. It wasn’t just repairing a few lines or a couple of downed poles.

“We replaced more than 1,100 poles, over 130 miles of wire. It was a huge effort and it was a storm that any of us who worked will never forget,” stressed Staggers.

But it wasn’t just the derecho that impacted restoration time. Several other major storms ripped through West Virginia in the days after the derecho, setting work back by days.

“So in addition to the 350,000 (customers) that were initially knocked out with the derecho, another 170,000 customers, many of them the same customers that were affected by the derecho, were also knocked out of power in thunderstorms later that week,” explained Staggers.

He said the derecho taught the company some very valuable lesson, especially when it came to cooperation with groups like the West Virginia National Guard and state DOH. First Energy worked with both in the wake of the storm to come up with a plan of attack in case something like the derecho happens again.

Staggers said possibly the biggest change came about with the state Public Service Commission’s investigation into right of way maintenance. The PSC put a plan together. It was approved earlier this year.

“Every section of right of way in the company’s service territory in West Virginia will be maintained or cut within a five year period. Then they’re looking at a four-year cycle after that,” according to Staggers.

He said if another derecho were to hit the state today, First Energy would be in a much better position to handle the aftermath.

“We’ve made changes to our storm restoration process, how we dispatch crews, how we do trouble shooting and damage assessment. All part of what we do now is based on lessons we learned from two years ago,” stressed Staggers.

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Comments

  • NCWV62

    Homeowners learned some valuable lessons too.
    1. No matter how long your power was off (ours was most of a month), you still get the same bill as if the power was on the whole time.
    2. While they can go to PSC and request that their losses be recouped by charging customers more for their neglect, the homeowner has nowhere to turn for reimbursement for hundreds of dollars in generator fuel and/or freezers full of food that spoiled and/or lost wages, etc.

  • northforkfisher

    The problem with this company is the fact that people sitting behind a desk making calls about everything, instead of the foremen and supervisors. They had to wait four hours to get the work order number to turn the substation on the powered all of the western part of Pendleton County.

  • Reality check

    My area has been "maintained" or "cleaned up" or whatever term they are using for their 5 yr plan. Still trees in the wires.

  • Marion

    First Energy ! What a joke !i was one of those without power for 12 days. I went out on my own, found the lines down , notified first energy. Was told that area has been cleared ! Pencil whipping at its best ! Finally on the 12th day someone listened to me. Told them where to look and how far to walk. If they woul have listened hundreds of us would have been restored in a few days. They are a joke period !!!

  • Voter

    And Appalachian Power wants an increase now for a storm that happened two years ago.

  • Scott

    Tom,

    It's my understanding power lines and right aways quit being maintained a few years ago. It was more cost effective for these companies to wait for something to go badly, then request federal/state disaster relief money. Regular maintenance costs vs relief money saves corporate millions. Utilities prices go up, quality and continuity of service go down, the regular Joe pays for it all!

  • Tom

    The power company's biggest problem was they got lazy and cheap and failed to maintain the lines, keeping them clear of trees and limbs. It is great that the PSC came in and forced the power companies to maintain the right of ways. A lot of anguish and work could have been prevented if the power companies were good stewards.