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Sandy won't be as costly as derecho for APCO, officials say

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Superstorm Sandy is not likely to cost Appalachian Power as much as the summer derecho did, company officials say.

In West Virginia, 150,000 Appalachian Power customers lost power during last month's storm. By comparison, outages for West Virginia customers during the June storm peaked at 330,000. 

"[Sandy] should not be anything [close] to the nature of the derecho," spokeswoman Jeri Matheny said.

The derecho cost Appalachian Power $62 million, according to the company's current estimate. The company has yet to make estimations about the costs associated with Sandy. In previously published reports, company president Charles Patton estimated the costs to be between $20 and $25 million.

Matheny said that estimate is based on history. The company has not yet received any bill for the repairs, she said.

The company should have an estimate of the cost within a few weeks, she said.

If the company were to try to recover those costs, it would need to make a request to the West Virginia Public Service Commission, which would ultimately make that decision.

It's too soon to say whether APCO will go to the PSC and ask for a rate increase, she said. The company has no immediate plans to do so, she said.

The same is true about whether the company plans to try and recover the costs associated with the June derecho.

"We have not asked for any recovery and we don't know when we might," Matheny said.

During the latest storm, the company brought in 1,600 line mechanics, 300 assessors and 850 tree trimmers from its sister companies in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma to assist with repairs during the recent snowstorm, Matheny said.

Appalachian Power officials were at first concerned that they would not be able to get the workers from other companies they needed to make repairs in West Virginia, but that didn't turn out to be a problem.

"We were very pleased we were able to get crews here on Monday before the storm even hit," she said.

The storm in June taught the company some lessons that it put to use after Sandy struck the region, she said.

"I think that we were more able to quickly work with city, county and state government to make sure hazards in the road were clear," she said, adding that the National Guard helped with that aspect of the cleanup.

During the derecho, Appalachian Power began using what it calls "non-traditional" employees to help with repairs. Plant employees, for instance, served as drivers and guides for crews, Matheny said.

"We did it first in the derecho out of necessity and we were able to do more of that during Sandy as well," she said.

During the derecho, Appalachian Power used helicopters to assess damage to lines. But during Sandy, cloud cover and snowy weather prevented the company from using helicopters until Thursday afternoon, she said.

Helicopters are useful for assessing damage because some of the company's service area is in such rural areas, she said.

Matheny said the storms were different.

"The most similar thing [about the storms] is they happened close together and caused outages," she said.

In both cases, downed trees causes outages but with the derecho, the wind by itself caused outages. During the snowstorm, heavy snow weighed down trees that fell on power lines, causing outages.

Trimming trees in right of ways did not help like it would during smaller outages, she said. Healthy trees outside the right-of-way areas that fell with a lot of force cause severe damage, she said.

"It's the trees far away that come crashing down and take out trees on their way down the mountain," she said. "They caused a lot of damage during Sandy and during the derecho."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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