PUCO announces review following major power failures

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Jun. 23—Governor Mike DeWine said he is anticipating the findings of the state's performance review of public energy providers after storms last week caused significant power failures across the state.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio announced that it will work with energy providers to conduct a total review of the outages and restoration efforts. In Butler County, some Duke Energy customers went over 50 hours without power while enduring excessive heat and humidity.

DeWine said the review should look into what steps Ohio utilities are taking "...to ensure that the significant disruption Ohioans experienced last week does not occur again."

PUCO spokesperson Matt Schilling said this kind of review from the commission is routine after severe power failures in the state, but comments from DeWine and PUCO Chair Jenifer French suggest there will be separate focuses.

At a PUCO meeting last week, French focused on the intentional outages in central Ohio, where energy provider AEP and the state's high voltage grid manager PJM Interconnection coordinated to intentionally shut off service to several overly-stressed transmission lines around Columbus.

There were no intentional outages in southwest Ohio. Here, major energy providers Duke Energy (the primary provider for Butler and Warren counties); AES Ohio (Montgomery and Greene counties) and FirstEnergy's Ohio Edison (Clark County) all experienced failures strictly due to physical damage incurred during the severe thunderstorm on July 13.

Casey Kroger, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, said the company had to replace or repair hundreds of blown line fuses and powerline poles after trees, branches or other fallen debris caused damage.

Under PUCO regulations, energy providers are required to have vegetation management plans around their power lines.

"If the PUCO were to find that a utility had a poor vegetation management program, we could order, theoretically, changes to their program," Schilling said.

"The regular maintenance we do for our right-of-ways is so critical to keeping our lines and equipment reliable," Kroger said. "And we do have regular maintenance. We're constantly out there."

But, in a storm like last week's, "It was kind of us versus mother nature," Kroger said.

Kroger said that while Duke Energy has not yet been contacted by PUCO regarding the review, the company will cooperate with the state regulators.

Ohio Edison, Clark County's primary energy provider, said in an email statement that the company will "provide the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio with information they request regarding our restoration efforts."

PUCO is constantly evaluating the performance of energy providers in the state.

Schilling said PUCO currently has a pending case against AES Ohio for failing to meet one of the commission's performance standards two years in a row. Duke Energy had to pay a fine earlier this year after the commission found Duke failed to meet inspection obligations.