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Dominion: Severe Utility Damage Hindered Derecho Efforts

Representative from power company gives insight into response to June 29 storm

Dominion Virginia Power blamed a lack of advance preparation time for their week-long power restoration following the , the company said in a presentation Thursday during a Town Hall meeting hosted by Del. Kaye Kory's (D-38th) in Falls Church.

“It is very scary to be without any kind of communication or air conditioning when we experience a million-year storm," said Kory, who called the meeting so residents had a chance to communicate directly with the service providers.

Dominion's problems stemmed largely from the storm's sudden arrival, the company said.

"This was the equivalent of a hurricane moving across the nation with little time for preparation," said Tim Sargeant, manager for state and local affairs with Dominion Power, who added Dominion generally has a week or so to prepare with a hurricane or other major storm.

Meter readings showed 1.1 million customers in Virginia lost power, which included outages at critical facilities such as hospitals, shelters and businesses, among others. That amounts to approximately 63 percent (526,000) of Northern Virginia customers. Full restoration of power was completed July 6.

According to Sargeant’s presentation, a total of 271 critical facilities were affected by the storm and all but seven were restored by July 2. Approximately 26,000 work locations in Virginia needed repairs, 11,000 of which were in Northern Virginia.

The type of damage, especially in Northern Virginia, hindered Dominion’s efforts, Sargeant said. Downed trees that blocked roadways and streets in neighborhoods slowed Dominion's access to equipment to begin restoration.

"We lost entire circuits, lengths of lines between poles that carry electricity … utility poles cut in half, hundreds of transformers, protective devices, fuses, all destroyed and all had to be replaced," Sargeant said.

Mutual assistance from power companies across 18 states and Canada arrived less than 24 hours after the storm.

When asked about the possibility of Dominion burying their power lines, Sargeant said "underground service is an expensive proposal and sometimes it's not feasible."

"High density urban areas are good locations for underground service, but there's a limit to how many lines and the type that go underground," Sargeant said.

Even if some lines were underground, Sargeant said any that are connected to outside lines can still be affected by outages.

Regarding communication, Sargeant said the company relies on several channels such as their website, phone, Facebook, Twitter and elected representatives to pass along information during outages to customers. Sargeant said Dominion will continue to maintain good relationships with emergency management offices, but will work on improving their callback process and their efforts to provide customers with restoration times.

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