Freeze Keeps Some Power Crews Working Through Holiday

posted Jan 2, 2014, 7:21 AM by News & Citizen

by Mickey Smith 

   The icestorm that hit northern Vermont between Friday, December 20, and Sunday, December 22, left many without power and required several local electric company employees to work through the Christmas holiday.

The Vermont Electric Cooperative’s service area was the hardest hit, as they reported a total of 36,000 customers who were without power as a result of the storm, mostly to the north and west of Lamoille County. Locally, the Cambridge area appeared the hardest hit area.

The bulk of the power outages had been repaired by Monday morning, but VEC was still reporting about 8,800 members without power at that point.  

In order to get those remaining customers back on line, there were about 450 employees working through the VEC system including Christmas Day. VEC Communication Specialist Amanda Zay said  this number included all 100 VEC employees (including office staff who manned phones and provided updates) plus about 200 contracted linemen and 150 contracted tree crews. Another 250 contracted employees from other utility companies had helped over the weekend, for a total of 600 additional utility workers helping with the storm. By Thursday, December 26, those repairs had been made, but Zay said they had began experiencing new outages especially in areas where the ice load had not melted from the lines. The weight of additional snow on lines and trees was causing new outages to crop up. As of Friday noontime, she said, these were occurring at a more manageable rate, so their own crews were able to keep up. She said they expected over the weekend they would probably be forced to cause temporary power interruptions in areas so they could make more permanent repairs to lines.

Franklin County appeared to be the area of most concern for additional outages, but Zay said until the temperatures warmed up enough to unload ice from the lines the threat remained of more outages.

VEC provides the most up-to-date information about outages on their website,

In Stowe, Stowe Electric Department General Manager Ellen Burt said their outages were isolated to Sunday, December 22, from about 5 a.m. to 4 p.m.  The biggest issue was a transmission pole that caught fire, but other than that she reported minor issues all over the place. Since 5 p.m. on Sunday, their crews went to help VEC, returning Thursday evening, December 26.

She said they have been fortunate to not have any outages since Sunday, and don’t anticipate any new damages from the added precipitation forecasted. She added her employees worked very well together and got the power back on quickly.  She was very pleased with how well it went and that there was a lot of teamwork.

In Morristown, the two biggest areas of concern were the top of Sand Hill into Elmore and the north end of town, where there was an issue at the Trombley Hill substation. Morrisville Water & Light Manager Craig Myotte noted the elevation change caused ice buildup to be much heavier in Elmore than in Morrisville.

“The day was one of making gains, then losing ground as trees and branches snapped from the ice loading into the lines throughout the day,” said Myotte. “Just when we thought we had electric service restored to every customer a new series of problems would come in,”  he explained wryly.

Power had been restored to all but one customer by 9 p.m., whom Myotte reported as having a generator.  Overnight several additional issues developed, but he said those were repaired by about noon on Monday.

Due to staffing issues, Myotte said they were not able to send crews out to help other communities, but they did help Enosburg find line and tree crews to aid with their restoration efforts.

“Trees remain the single biggest cause of electrical service interruptions for MW&L” said Myotte. MW&L intends to develop an aggressive plan to clear trees along the power lines and MW&L seeks the cooperation of landowners to allow trees to be removed that could result in service interruptions for MW&L’s customers.  

The website offers information about power outages around the state.