Atlantic City Electric estimates repairs could take a week

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HAMILTON TOWNSHIP  _ Atlantic City Electric officials say they are better prepared to handle the problems caused by Hurricane Sandy than they were for last summer’s derecho, but warn of a worst-case scenario where some customers may not receive electrical service for a week.

“The derecho came through with Hurricane winds without the hurricane warning,” said Joseph M. Rigby, chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of Pepco Holdings, Inc., the parent company of Atlantic City Electric.

“The difference with Hurricane Sandy was that we had a warning and we are better prepared,” he said during a press conference held Tuesday, Oct. 30 at Atlantic City Electric’s headquarters on Route 40.

Hurricane Sandy roared ashore during the evening hours of Monday, Oct. 29, packing 75-plus-mph winds that downed trees and power lines.

However, Sandy also packed a near-record storm surge and a 6- to 10-inch rainfall that flooded mainland neighborhoods and the barrier island communities. Atlantic City Electric’s underground equipment suffered extensive damage, he said.

As a result, more than 160,000 customers in eight South Jersey counties were without power on Monday evening compared to more than 200,000 affected during the derecho, Rigby said.

There more than 2,200 active outages on Monday night, according to the company’s website.

Atlantic City Electric began monitoring Hurricane Sandy’s potential landfall on Oct. 25, Rigby said. The utility then went into its 72-hour checklist as weather forecasters warned landfall became increasingly likely with each passing day.

“It gave us time to mobilize,” Rigby said. “Believe it or not, we actually practice for this.”

Essentially, the derecho caught everybody by surprise, he said. But armed with a forewarning, Atlantic City Electric was able to harness as many of PHI employees as possible and send out requests for extra help. Those workers included line crews and tree trimmers from around the country.

“We have 450 tree trimmers ready to go,” Rigby said. “We have 1,400 crews from the Southeast United States ready to go. We have 2,000 inter-resource employees ready to go. The extra help means a lot.”

Rigby said the utility company will house its extra staff and equipment at the Atlantic City Race Course behind the Hamilton Mall.

“They are staged and ready to go,” he said.

Customers will receive more exact restoration times as early as Wednesday, Oct. 31 after service crews begin their damage assessments, according to Vincent Maione, president, Atlantic City Electric Region of Pepco Holdings, Inc.

“We want to give you the worse-case scenario, so people can plan their lives,” he said. “We update restoration times daily and customers can check back online at any time.”

Maione “guestimated” that some mainland communities from Ocean County to Cape May County will have their power restored in less than a week. However, it may take a week and a day longer for barrier island residents to have power restored.

“The derecho blasted through trees with straight line winds that downed power lines,” Maione said.

As a result, work crews had to painstakingly work neighborhood by neighborhood and street by street to reconnect wires and make repairs. With Hurricane Sandy, work crews are more likely to be working on r substations and transformers resulting in more service restorations per repair, he said.

 “We are lucky that the storm pulled out of the area faster than predicted,” he said. “This enabled us to begin assessing the situation on Tuesday when we had planned not to begin until Wednesday.”

Maione said he hoped to give updated estimated time of restoration estimates to the media and customers as soon as Oct. 31.

“We will concentrate on transmission infrastructure first,” Rigby said. “Then we will repair our substations, distribution network and then we go to the individual customers.”

Maione suggested residents report outages to (800) 833-7476 or online at www.atlanticcityelectric.com.

Rigby estimated that last year’s derecho repairs cost PHI $85 million.

“But cost is never a concern,” he said. “Restoring power is.”


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