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Ohio utilities commission meets with AEP regarding power outages

AEP utility workers were out Wednesday morning at East Jenkins and Parsons avenues, working on electric lines as much of the neighborhood dealt with outages. Numerous residents approached the workers to talk about the outages.
Renee Fox
/
WOSU
AEP utility workers were out Wednesday morning at East Jenkins and Parsons avenues, working on electric lines as much of the neighborhood dealt with outages. Numerous residents approached the workers to talk about the outages.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio heard from electricity provider AEP and transmission line operator PJM in a public meeting Wednesday about forced power outages in June in Columbus.

The impact of severe weather on June 13 caused damage to certain facilities in the network of power supplied to the city. Compacted by heat, low wind, high humidity and high usage, more power lines were “tripped”, sending them out of service. AEP then cut power to customers in various neighborhoods to prevent overloads on working transmission lines.

The decision to cut power to some residents during high temperatures has come under fire from those affected. Many figured their neighborhoods were subjected to power losses because they didn’t live in more affluent areas.

AEP showed pictures of downed transmission lines, many of which were in other parts of Ohio. But, company representatives said it was "physics" that dictated where power was shut down, not demographics, as some in the community have said.

Michael Bryson, senior vice president of operations for PJM, said AEP had just 5 minutes to decide where to cut service in order to prevent even more from losing power and damage to equipment.

"Our directive to our utilities is to shed enough megawatts to get back under the rating that we want to get them under [the emergency rating]. And then the utility really has the expertise to figure out how they will discreetly shed that load as quickly as possible,” Bryson said.

"If we didn't share the load, essentially, we're just waiting for those lines to trip and we're going to lose customers as well. The problem with waiting is you have the potential of having more damage to the facilities, which means longer customer outages,” he said.

Bryson said the last time PJM ordered a load shed in Ohio was nearly a decade ago during planned outages, storms and heat.

"It is something that we do very rarely, we design a system to really reduce the times that we will have to do it. The last time we did it in Ohio was back in September of 2013,” Bryson said.

One member of the commission asked Bryson if PJM was aware of the weather forecast, and Bryson said they were. The commission member asked if the company had asked users to reduce their consumption to prepare for reduced capacity. Bryson said “no.”

According to AEP, workers labored "around the clock" to get power back on.

PUCO members said they will continue to evaluate the circumstances surrounding the outages.

Those affected who would like to register a complaint can do so at https://puco.ohio.gov/help-center/file-a-complaint.

For more information about the Wednesday meeting, visit https://puco.ohio.gov/utilities/electricity/resources/power-outage-review.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.