Clearing up some misconceptions and explaining how we get the lights back on
By: Mike Charest, Eversource Chief Lineman
I’m Mike and I’ve been a lineworker for 35 years, the last 20 of them with Eversource. After all that time on the job – and restoring power after major storms like Isaias, Sandy, Irene and others – I thought I’d share my perspective on what it’s like working a massive storm restoration – to help people understand how it all works.
After a big storm hits, bringing down thousands of trees – massive trees, sometimes several on the same street – snapping hundreds of utility poles and tearing down miles of wire, the power may be knocked out to tens of thousands of customers around the state. It’s hard to be without power, but we hope you know – we’re always working our hardest to get everyone’s lights back on as safely and quickly as possible.
Gearing up before the storm
When a big storm is coming and we’re expecting widespread power outages, we know it’s going to be a long restoration. For us, that means resting up and getting mentally prepared for the long road ahead. Typically, during a storm restoration, we work long shifts, day after day, sometimes for a week or more, depending on the amount of damage. It can be difficult to leave our families for extended periods of time, but we do it because we know our customers are depending on us. From there, we make our way to the closest area work center to load up our trucks with all of the supplies we need.
How we restore power
Once the storm has passed, or it’s safe to be out on the roads and/or up in the bucket trucks, we get to work. We face a lot of challenges out there. Weather conditions can be tough, with howling winds, driving snow or rain and blocked roads – blocked by those massive trees I mentioned – preventing us from getting to where we need to be.
We’re deployed first to emergency situations, downed wires or snapped poles. We make the area safe by checking to be sure the downed lines are de-energized. While we’re doing that, other crews are working with local police and town crews to address any blocked roads. At the same time, our System Operations Team is checking to see if critical facilities – places like hospitals, police and fire stations, water treatment facilities or schools that are being used as shelters – have power.
Our next step in restoring power is to repair the high-voltage transmission lines that deliver electricity from power plants to substations. This work happens at the same time other crews are making any needed repairs to get substations back online. When that’s done, we can focus on the primary electric lines – the lines that run down the main roads. Then we move on to the secondary lines on the side streets, so the power can eventually flow to the homes in your neighborhood. Following this process allows us to restore the largest number of customers at once. And remember, we may be working on a circuit in another town that will bring the power back to your neighborhood. So even if you don’t see us, that doesn’t mean we’re not working to get your lights back on.
When we can and can’t restore power
We can, and often do, restore power during a storm, but we have to make sure it’s safe first. We can’t drive in blinding weather conditions, like a blizzard, and we can’t go up in the buckets if the winds are above 35 mph. Even if you don’t see us up in the buckets, we’re still working to restore power. In many cases, system operators in our command center are using technology to reroute the power remotely, wherever possible, to get homes back on line.
When we’re parked
At times during a long storm restoration, you may see us parked in our bucket trucks somewhere and think we’re not doing anything. And if you don’t have power, I can see how that would be frustrating. There are a couple of reasons for this. We may be waiting for approval from the emergency operations center to complete the next step in the repair process, to de-energize a line so we can safely work on it or to re-energize it after repairs are made, or we may be waiting for a nearby crew to complete their work, so power can be restored safely to the area. We could also be waiting to get our next assignment location, or we may be on a lunch or dinner break.
As always, we’ll be out there after the next storm. Whether you see us in your neighborhood or not, just know we want to get your lights back on too and we’re working as quickly and safely as possible to do that.