Customers complain about wait to get power back on

jspector@newsobserver.comJune 14, 2013 

As power outages from Thursday night’s storms stretched into Friday, some disgruntled Duke Energy customers questioned why it was taking so long to get the lights back on.

In particular, former Progress Energy customers in the Triangle said things seemed to go better before Progress merged with Duke last year.

But Duke officials counter that the merger brings additional tools to the company’s storm response.

Duke Energy is expecting power to be restored by Sunday evening to the last of the 140,000 customers in North and South Carolina who remain without it, spokesman Jeff Brooks said. The length of the restoration effort is a result of the scale of the storm, he added.

“It was a much faster storm than a hurricane, but it caused hurricane-level damage in some places in a matter of minutes,” Brooks said.

Duke Energy has mobilized crews from other states, including Indiana and Kentucky, Brooks said. Their strategy is to focus first on transmission lines, substations and main lines, which provide power to large areas, and then work out to individual lines, he said.

Even with these efforts, power remains out for about 35,000 residents of the Triangle, which was among the hardest-hit regions.

Staples Hughes, a resident of Polk’s Landing in northern Chatham County, was still without power when he left for work Friday morning, even though he said he could find no trees down or other visible damage in the neighborhood.

Hughes said he spoke Friday morning with a Duke Energy employee who was working on the outage. The employee said his crew had been told to go home at midnight Thursday and then come back to work at 6 a.m. Friday.

“If that was true, there’s something wrong here,” Hughes said. “If this was a deliberate business decision, it was completely irresponsible. If it was a mistake, it was terribly negligent.”

Although Brooks did not comment on the specifics of Hughes’ neighborhood, he said decisions to have a crew come off shift are based primarily on safety concerns for workers. The responders typically work 16-hour shifts, and some had worked a full day already when the storm hit.

As for changes since the merger, Brooks said most of the crews living and working in the Triangle now are the same crews that worked here before the merger. The storm response team now draws on leadership from both former Progress personnel and Duke Energy, and it has access to line crews that previously would have belonged to a different company.

“The merger has strengthened our ability to respond to outages because we have additional nearby resources at our disposal,” Brooks said.

Spector: 919-836-4918

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