The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Va., Bryan McKenzie column
Mar 10, 2013 (The Daily Progress - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
They swear they don't hate you. They swear they're not lying to you. They promise they don't despise you, your house, your family or your neighborhood.
"Really, there's no street or subdivision that we have anything against," said Carl Baab, a Dominion Virginia Power spokesman. "We're not punishing anyone."
Yes, Mr. Baab was joking, but he also was very serious. He swore, although not on a stack of Bibles, that power crews were putting customers back on line after Wednesday's snowstorm just as quickly as they could. He said they use a methodical, thought-out process aided and abetted by computers using information from customer outage reports and computerized sensors on the lines, a process designed to put as many people on line as quickly as possible.
They insist that they're doing their level-best to empower everyone, but some people could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. For here, in the middle of a city neighborhood with lights and heat and working stoves, a four-square-block section of homes remained dark and cold into Friday.
No porch lights lighted the way. No street lights illuminated the sidewalks. No heat warmed the proverbial hearths.
"I don't know what the problem is, but this is unacceptable," said a neighbor as she stopped by her chilly home just after sundown. "I've been without power for four days. I'm living at my brother's. I think the power company hates me."
Many in the past few days have echoed her sentiment, but Mr. Baab insists that hate has nothing to do with it.
It's the process, he said, and the process works like this: Fix the big lines to bring power from the substations to the main lines. Energize. Fix the lines that feed off the main lines into the neighborhoods. Energize. Fix the lines in the neighborhoods. Energize. Fix the lines that go to individual homes. Energize. Go home.
Unfortunately, fixing isn't always easy. Sometimes you have to replace transformers. Sometimes you need to replace a pole or two or three. Sometimes you have to pull 15-foot telephone poles through 18 inches of snow and through downed trees to dig a hole, put the new pole up, run new power lines and hook everything into the existing system.
Sometimes you have to do all of the above.
If you have 500 people in your powerless subdivision and a crew can put another 500 people across town on line quicker and easier with a simple repair, your totem goes lower on the pole.
"The object is to get power to the emergency services like hospitals and nursing homes and pumping stations. Then we go for those repairs that will provide power to the most customers the quickest," Mr. Baab said.
"What happens is that, as you put more circuits back on line, you can end up with a four-block area or more that has power coming in from a different line or has other issues with lines or transformers and they remain without power while others have it," Mr. Baab said.
Sometimes they power you up only to find undetected damage that powers you back down.
"In this case, Charlottesville and Albemarle County were the epicenter of the storm and had the most damage and it takes a while to get it back together," Mr. Baab said. "There are a lot of trees in the area and that's what causes much of the damage, whether it's from wind in hurricanes and tornadoes and microbursts or this wet and heavy snow."
The good news, Mr. Baab said, is that power should be back for everyone by Sunday. The bad news is the next big storm could do it all over again.
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