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    AEP: Intentional power outages are necessary


    June 16, 2022 - Mark Williams

     

      American Electric Power has intentionally shut off power to customers throughout Greater Columbus and other parts of its Ohio service territory just as the hottest weather of the year is settling in.

      Why?

      AEP, one of the biggest power generators in the country, blames several factors: the severe storms that pounded Ohio Monday night and Tuesday, followed by the heat that is pushing temperatures up to nearly triple digits this week, as well as demand for electricity.

      About a quarter million customers were without power as of Tuesday night, according to AEP. Of that number, 169,000 were in the Columbus area.

      By mid-Wednesday afternoon, the total number of outages was down to about 135,000, roughly 85,000 of them in Greater Columbus.

      AEP says the decision to shut off power in some neighborhoods was done to keep outages from spreading and making it even harder and longer to restore power.

      Power was coming back on in some areas on Wednesday, while other areas were reporting power coming back and then going off again.

      AEP expects power outages to last until Thursday night in Columbus; parts of Ohio won't have power restored until as late as Saturday.

      "It's absolutely the last resort," AEP spokesman Scott Blake of the decision to turn off power in neighborhoods. "It's the last thing we want to do."

      The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio says it is monitoring the situation.

      "These outages have caused not only inconveniences, but also serious problems for residents and businesses in the affected areas," chair Judith French said at Wednesday's commission meeting. "We understand these problems and hope to see power restored to all as soon as possible."

      In South Linden, Michell Wiley of McGuffey Road said Wednesday morning that she was without power from about 3 p.m. Tuesday to 8:45 a.m. Wednesday.

      She said she spent Tuesday night with her daughter, who lives near Brice and Refugee roads on the Far East Side, where there was power. Wiley also took her 78-year-old mother, who lives on Jefferson Avenue in the Linden area, to the Hilton Columbus/Polaris.

      "It was not good," said Wiley of the power loss.

      The Linden area looks to be one of the hardest hit by the outages, according to AEP's power outage map.

      Wiley thinks it was unfair that her neighborhood with its less-expensive homes was targeted for a power shutdown.

      "They think less of us," she said.

      New outages continued during the day on Wednesday.

      In one part of North Linden, between Karl and Maize roads south of Cooke Road, 2,796 customers lost power at 8:43 a.m.

      Jasmine Ayres, a North Linden area commissioner, said she and a friend drove the Northland area about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, along Morse and Karl roads and East Dublin-Granville Road, seeing nothing but darkness.

      "Northland was devastating last night," Ayres said. "So many senior-living facilities."

      "How did the neighborhood with the most immigrants and refugees and Black folks have no power?" she asked.

      The Columbus branch of the NAACP on Wednesday released a statement demanding more information from AEP about the process of determining which areas of town were selected for shutting off power.

      AEP says the neighborhoods chosen were based on the dangers of overloads that could make outages worse and take longer to restore.

      "There's no tie whatsoever to customers, or what type of customers," said Jon Williams, AEP Ohio's managing director of customer experience. "We're not picking and choosing locations."

      Meanwhile, the traffic lights were out about 11 a.m. Wednesday along Summit Street in Italian Village at the intersections of East 1st and East 2nd avenues and Warren Street.

      Nate Schweitzer, who lives on North 4th Street, was walking along Summit. He said he lost power just 20 minutes before.

      "What else am I going to do?' said Schweitzer, 35, who works from home and texted his office that he lost power.

      Purposefully shutting off the power to certain areas doesn't meet the technical definition of a brownout.

      Brownouts are when there is not enough electric generation and the grid isn't operating at full capacity, according to PJM Interconnection, which oversees the flow of electricity in all or parts of 13 states and the District of Columbia, including all of Ohio. Customers could have electricity, but not what they would normally expect to have.

      In this case, AEP is shutting off power temporarily to specific locations to ease constraints on power lines that it says could make outages worse.

      But what does a downed power line in Licking County have to do with AEP's decision to intentionally turn off power in Clintonville, Linden and other neighborhoods?

      The transmission system that was heavily damaged by the storm brings power miles away to the substations that serve the neighborhoods.

      "We're forced to take those stations (offline) to prevent other issues from popping up," Blake said.

      French said several transmission lines, which carry large loads of power from generating sources to the smaller distribution lines and substations, were knocked out of service because of the storms, and that put increased stress on the transmission lines that remained.

      "Because of this, yesterday afternoon PJM had to order AEP Ohio to decrease the electricity demand on some parts of the stressed system in central Ohio," she said.

      In 2003, a tree branch touched a power line in northeast Ohio, starting a cascading series of outages that knocked out power to 50 million people to eight states and parts of Canada.

      PJM says turning off power intentionally, called load shed, is something done as a last resort.

      "It is a controlled interruption of customers, which operators turn to after exhausting all other options for maintaining stability," it said. "In some cases, this would occur during an extreme hot or cold spell, and operators could reasonably anticipate such an action as customer demand increases. If instability develops suddenly, operators may need to bypass all other emergency procedures and immediately conduct a controlled interruption."

      No power means spoiled food for some.

      Keleea Leake, 39, was in the process of making salmon and rice for dinner Tuesday afternoon when the power to her North Linden house went out.

      Leake and her two high school-aged children instead spent the evening alternating between the front porch and her car, using half a tank of gas to try and stay cool. The food in their refrigerator and freezer has by now gone bad, leaving them with nothing to eat.

      Just before noon Wednesday, Leake and her son and daughter sat at a picnic table under an umbrella outside All People's Fresh Market on the South Side, waiting for the line into the Parsons Avenue market to thin before subjecting themselves to the sun.

      "Today has been hell," Leake said.

      Leake said her 12-year-old son sometimes uses a breathing machine to alleviate chronic asthma, which of course requires power.

      "They're frustrated, so that makes me frustrated," she added. "Me not being able to get them any food. I don't have anything. I exhausted everything with this move."

      "I'm disgusted. I never had something like this happen."

      The storms that blew through Ohio Monday night and Tuesday morning were powerful.

      The National Weather Service is calling the storm a derecho, defined as "a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms."

      The weather service had more than 300 reports of winds topping 58 mph, including 98 mph in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

      The storms toppled trees and power lines throughout Ohio, causing widespread damage. AEP says the storms brought down more than 100 poles and downed power lines across our service territory, including some large transmission lines.

      About 1,400 line, tree, assessor, contractor and support personnel are engaged, and approximately 500 additional personnel were on the way for Wednesday morning, according to AEP.

      In addition, drones and four helicopters have been working in the Upper Sandusky, Lexington, Cambridge, Wooster and Zanesville areas to assist in assessment efforts.

      Dispatch Reporters Mark Ferenchik and Monroe Trombly contributed to this report.

      mawilliams@dispatch.com

      @BizMarkWilliams

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