Calvin, G. Butler Jr., Senior Vice President, Regulatory and External Affairs
When temperatures hover around 100 degrees for several days, central air conditioning systems, window air conditioners and even fans are going at full blast. Unfortunately, this can stress the electric system and contribute to power outages. That’s exactly what happened in mid-July in southeast Baltimore when close to 1,000 customers experienced multiple power outages over a three-day period even as we worked around-the-clock to restore service. Crews made repairs to underground electric cables and overhead lines to restore power, but because of the high usage, additional problems occurred in other locations causing subsequent outages.
Recognizing the extreme inconvenience of being without power during a heat wave, our field personnel brought in temporary overhead power lines to allow for some service restoration while the underground cables were being replaced. In some cases, we also transferred customers from their normal circuit to an alternate circuit, in an attempt to balance electric load throughout the area. Understanding the concerns of our customers, we also set up our mobile operations center, an oversized trailer, staffed with community affairs and technical personnel who could speak one-on-one with customers and provide updates on restoration work. As an added step toward keeping our customers informed of our operations, we committed to coming back to the community, as we do across our service area after extended or recurring outages to not only explain what caused the disruption, but to also share our plan for improving electric reliability going forward.
On August 26, BGE joined Baltimore City Councilman Jim Kraft in hosting a community meeting for residents at the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School on South Chester Street. Delegate Brian McHale, who also represents Baltimore City and an aide to Senator Bill Ferguson of Baltimore City, also attended. Between 35 and 50 customers came to the meeting during which BGE engineers and technicians from our customer reliability unit used maps to show customers how the electric system is designed in this community and where the equipment failures occurred. They answered questions and explained the short-term and long-term plan for improving reliability in the community, which includes replacing existing overhead power lines with larger lines and adding new underground cable. Both will better support the increased electricity demand within the area.
Other BGE areas present to answer questions included gas operations, smart meters, billing, social media, community affairs, customer contact center, and new business. Perhaps one of the most important messages that we tried to convey during the meeting is the need for customers to notify BGE when they make major renovations to their homes. When numerous major home improvements occur, such as adding central air conditioning systems, and BGE is not notified, over time, the cumulative impact of the increased usage can stress the electric system and cause power outages as was the case in July. Customers should always contact a qualified electrician to determine if any residential upgrades or additions can be supported by the existing electric service. The electrician should then call BGE at 1-800-637-8713 to make us aware so that we can ensure our downstream equipment is also sufficient for the increased demand.
This community meeting is another example of BGE’s commitment to engaging our customers in ongoing conversations, be they in-person, online or on the telephone, as we work to keep our customers informed and ensure continued reliable service throughout Central Maryland.
Carol Dodson, VP, Customer Operations & Chief Customer Officer
As we restore service to those customers affected by the storms this morning, a second severe weather disturbance is forecasted to arrive in central Maryland later today. We are monitoring these weather systems and mobilizing additional staffing and line crews in preparation.
We are also preparing for additional outages caused by this afternoon’s storms that may deliver saturated ground, strong wind gusts and lightning likely to bring down tree limbs and whole trees onto electric delivery equipment.
Heavy tree debris can be labor and time intensive to remove before repairs are made to electric equipment. Additionally, the bucket trucks that are necessary for many repairs cannot be safely operated in winds in excess of 25 miles per hour.
Some wires that hang or lay on the ground can prevent emergency vehicles from getting to where they need to go. In some cases, work must be delayed until it is safe. Additionally, flooded, washed out or debris-covered roads could make driving very hazardous for field crew. The safety of BGE’s employees and customers is our first priority.
More than 1,000 field personnel are currently engaged in the restoration effort and we will continue to work diligently until each customer is restored.
Service Restoration Process
BGE's restoration priorities
are public safety issues and critical facilities, such as 911 centers, hospitals and pumping stations. Then restoration is generally scheduled so that the greatest number of customers can be restored as safely and as quickly as possible. However, in cases of extended power outages, consideration is also given to customers who have been without service for the longest.
Customers who are elderly, disabled or dependent on electricity for medical equipment, should always have alternate arrangements in place should they experience an extended power outage.
If you see a downed wire, report it immediately by calling 877.778.2222. Never approach a downed wire and always assume that it is energized. We also urge you to report outages through our mobile website at www.bge.com
. Do not assume we are aware of the outage, or that your neighbor may have already called it in. Reporting outages helps BGE determine the size, scope and nature of the outage which in turn helps us determine the types of crews and equipment to dispatch in order to complete the necessary repairs. Outages can also be reported through BGE’s automated phone system at 877.778.2222.
An enhanced power outage map (http://outagemap.bge.com/
) is also available
through the mobile and full websites, and provides the general location and status of current electric power outages in BGE’s service area. Customers can view affected area(s), the number of customers affected by an outage, estimated time of restoration, if available, and the status of the field crew assigned to repair the issue.
Robert D. Biagiotti, P.E., Vice President, Gas Distribution Operations & Planning
All this month, we have been reminding everyone of the importance of calling Miss Utility at 811 before starting any digging project. That is because April is recognized as National Safe Digging Month. But, making sure that you know what is below ground before digging extends beyond April. Making the call to 811 is a year-round safety commitment.
A complex underground infrastructure of pipelines and wires quietly deliver essential services to us every day—including electricity, natural gas, water, sewage and communications. Unfortunately, because these facilities are out of sight, they also can be out of mind. As proof, in the U.S. every eight minutes an underground utility line is damaged because someone decided to dig without first calling 811.
Careless, unsafe digging can cause serious harm to you or those around you, disrupt service to an entire neighborhood, and potentially result in fines and repair costs. Why anyone would take that risk is perplexing, especially when with one simple call to Miss Utility at 811, buried utility lines can be marked.
Safe digging means placing a call to Miss Utility at 811 before every digging project, from simple landscaping projects like planting trees or shrubs, to building a deck or installing a mailbox.
Here’s how it works:
• One simple phone call to 811 makes it easy for Miss Utility to notify BGE and all appropriate utility companies of your intent to dig.
• Call at least two business days but not more than 10 days prior to digging to ensure enough time for utility lines to be properly marked.
• When you call 811, a representative from Miss Utility will ask for the location and description of your digging project.
• Miss Utility will notify affected utility companies, who will then send a professional locator to the proposed dig site to mark the approximate location of your lines.
• Once you confirm with Miss Utility that all lines have been properly marked, you can get to work. Your best bet is to redesign your project to avoid digging anywhere near marked underground utilities. However, if you can’t avoid it, hand dig with extreme caution and never use mechanized excavation equipment within 18 inches of marked utilities. Even hand tools like shovels, picks and digging bars can easily damage underground lines.
Don’t become part of the statistic – make sure to call Miss Utility at 811 before you dig! For more information, visit www.BGE.com/811 or www.call811.com.
Sara Pyrant, Forester
As customers, their families and neighborhoods shake off winter and look forward to spring’s new beginnings, BGE is also sharing in the excitement with the announcement of a new tree giveaway program. Through our coordination with the Arbor Day Foundation, we plan to give more than 9,000 trees to customers in an effort to promote a greener and more energy-efficient environment.
For some time, it’s been well-known that trees help to beautify landscapes and improve the air quality of a community; but did you know that they also help to reduce energy use? It’s true. By providing shade during the hotter months and a wind block during colder months, strategically placed trees can help add to the energy saving measures you might already incorporate such as insulation and sealing windows and doors. In some cases a properly planted and located tree can reduce a customer’s annual energy use by as much as 30 percent.
We encourage customers to take advantage of BGE’s Energy Saving Tree Program, and tell friends and neighbors who live in the BGE service territory. To reserve a tree and learn more, visit www.arborday.org/BGE
. While on the site, you can order up to two trees (as supply last) to include a number of Maryland native species including:
- American Hophornbeam
- American Hornbeam
- Eastern Redbud
- Flowering Dogwood
- Willow Oak
Each tree will come with standard tree planting instructions, a map of the designated planting site (in order to increase energy efficiency) and important reminders to never plant near overhead power lines and always call Miss Utility at 811 before digging and planting.
Together, with our customers and the Arbor Day Founation, we’re hoping to help beautify and add energy efficiency to central Maryland.
Rob Gould, VP and Chief Communications Officer
This morning, BGE’s decommissioned gas holder near W. Cold Spring Lane and the Jones Falls Expressway in Baltimore City is being demolished. This will be a controlled demolition using a series of shaped explosives to safely collapse the 258 foot tall structure.
Not operational since 1997, the 79-year-old tank with a circumference of 218 feet was made obsolete by upgrades to the regional gas system, and this is the sixth gas holder to be demolished by BGE in recent decades. Originally it was constructed on the 26-acre site BGE purchased in 1932 to meet customer demand for manufactured gas (before natural gas was piped to the region), adding gas to the area network of pipelines when demand increased and storing it when demand was lower. The internal roof of the tank rose or lowered depending on the gas volume.
will only take seconds, but planning for the demolition started several years ago and site preparation began late last year. A wide safety zone around the site has been established in close coordination with city and state authorities. There will be some brief, temporary traffic closures on nearby roads as a result.
When the demolition occurs, those nearby will hear a loud noise, similar to a thunderstorm overhead. Following the event, the site will be inspected and then normal traffic patterns are expected to resume. The steel structure will then be shorn apart and recycled over the next several months.
Due to the relatively isolated location of the structure and the safety exclusion zone, the best views of the implosion will be on television. BGE has been working with local media to cover the event. Outreach has been a critical part of the careful planning process. Immediately adjacent residents were informed of the work, and BGE has been working with state and local government officials to ensure public safety and minimize the disturbance to the extent possible.
We very much appreciate the patience and cooperation of those nearby in observing the safety perimeter and modified traffic patterns. We apologize for any disturbance and thank you for your cooperation as we complete this project.
By Jeannette M. Mills, VP, Customer Operations & Chief Customer Officer
Today we are continuing to repair storm damage and restore power even as we respond to new outages unrelated to Hurricane Sandy. Of course, priority is given to outages affecting large numbers of customers and those who have been without power the longest. We continue to expect the vast majority of customers affected by Hurricane Sandy to have power restored by tonight, with some work to address scattered outages involving significant damage remaining this weekend.
On behalf of everyone at BGE, I want to thank you, our customers, for preparing your families, homes and businesses for this storm and for your patience as we responded to power outages, cleared trees and repaired wires and poles across eight Maryland counties and Baltimore City.
Recovering from natural disasters is a community-wide effort. We greatly appreciate the close coordination with Maryland’s emergency responders, state and local governments, and local media for helping to keep everyone safe and well-informed.
With storms of this magnitude, we also look outside of our own community for support. More than 1,900 utility workers from 14 states answered BGE’s calls for assistance, many setting out for Maryland well before the storm. These skilled and selfless professionals left their loved ones and travelled hundreds of miles to undertake a potentially dangerous restoration effort. For that, we are humbled and grateful. Many of these crews have been called upon to continue providing assistance to communities to the north who are still struggling to recover. We keep them in our thoughts and pray for their continued safety and a return to their homes and families soon.
Altogether, more than 5,600 BGE employees and external resources have been working tirelessly to restore service to affected customers. Within 48 hours of the storm’s passing, more than 90 percent of affected customers had their power restored. We have not let up since, and will not let up until every customer is restored.
In the days and weeks ahead, we will conduct inspections in order to ensure the integrity and overall reliability of the electric system. Among other things, we will address trees damaged by this destructive weather system that could cause future outages. Maintenance of our grid will be ongoing, and we continue with our plans to invest approximately $3 billion in our system over the next five years. We also continue to innovate, adding more smart meters to the system on a daily basis, a technology that we were able to test during this storm and which we believe will make future restoration efforts more efficient.
Thanks again to all of our customers for demonstrating preparedness and an understanding of the effort necessary to recover from major weather events. You make us proud to serve you and to do the difficult but necessary work of preparing for challenges ahead. For those still experiencing outages, we are doing everything in our power to restore your service soon.
By Jeannette M. Mills, VP, Customer Operations & Chief Customer Officer
Yesterday we had another day of good progress making repairs and restoring electric service to customers, enabling us to estimate that the vast majority of the remaining customers without power
will be restored by tomorrow night. Some restorations will extend into the weekend for smaller pockets of customers or where there has been more significant system damage. We’re continuing to work aggressively to get power back to all customers and put this storm behind us.
As we make repairs to our existing grid, we are seeing a glimpse of what is ahead for the future of power grids. This storm has provided an opportunity to see how the smart meters BGE is currently installing will function in storm restoration efforts. About 10 percent of customers now have smart meters, and installations continue across our service territory. With the advanced meters in place, we have been able to test some new capabilities and procedures, including using smart meters to tell us when power restoration efforts were successful.
When we repair damaged electric distribution feeder lines that serve large numbers of customers, we have to confirm whether individual customers served by that feeder actually have their power back. Even with a feeder line operational, there may be more storm damage that needs to be repaired closer to a particular customer’s property. Normally, and in areas without smart meters, this means contacting customers by phone. As you can imagine, in the wake of a major storm many of our calls go unanswered for various reasons. Historically, two-thirds of customers are not able to be reached by calls. If we are unable to determine that power has been restored, we dispatch crews to investigate the status and determine if further repairs are needed.
During Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, as we restored power to feeders that serve customers with smart meters, we have been testing the ability to remotely contact the smart meters to determine if they came back online. What we’ve seen is that the smart meters are functioning as expected – we receive a signal to let us know that power has been restored, and no signal indicates we have some more work to do. Of course, we have a much higher rate of success getting through to smart meters than we do reaching customers by phone. This enables us to dispatch crews more efficiently, allowing them to focus on areas of possible damage instead of going out to locations where power has already been restored.
As it’s still early in our process, more analysis is needed to determine the full impact of smart meters on storm restoration. However, this process improvement, brought to us by a smarter grid, should make our future restoration and customer outreach efforts more efficient as more and more customers are equipped with smart meters.
We look forward to the near future, when smart grid enhancements will provide us with more data on when and where outages are occurring along the grid. Hearing directly from our customers will continue to be valuable to us however, and there are details only you can provide, such as the locations of downed trees and downed wires. We still ask that customers with smart meters call 1.877.778.2222 to let us know when they are experiencing an outage.
Today we are intently focused on restoring power to all of our customers, but as we do with any storm, we’ll soon be looking ahead to how we can improve our future restoration efforts. The smart meter testing under way during this storm has been encouraging. While we do not look forward to future storms, we do look forward to continuing to enhance the restoration process for our customers.
By Jeannette M. Mills, VP, Customer Operations & Chief Customer Officer
Yesterday we made very good progress repairing storm damage and restoring power to customers. Clean-up continues today and we now have more than 5,000 employees, contractors, tree personnel and out-of-state linemen working on the remaining power outages
in locations across the service area
As work continues, please be extremely cautious today, especially as many schools and businesses re-open. Many area traffic lights are not operating, making driving and crossing roads potentially hazardous. It is extremely critical that everyone understands and obeys Maryland’s new traffic law that went into effect Oct. 1, which requires all drivers to make a complete stop when approaching a non-functional traffic light, before entering any crosswalk or before entering the intersection.
Tonight, those observing Halloween trick-or-treating need to be particularly careful, especially as it relates to numerous remaining downed wires and other hazards. BGE has safety standby personnel safeguarding many downed wires, but understand that not all downed wires are reported or known, and some additional lines may continue to fall. Always assume all wires are energized and dangerous. Stay away from downed wires and never touch or try to move a wire of any type. Be observant for caution tape, safety cones, rope or other equipment that may be blocking a downed wire or other hazard. Never attempt to cross a taped or guarded area, and obey the instructions of public safety officials who may be safeguarding an area. For your safety, do not approach utility work areas. Downed wires should be reported to 1.877.778.2222. Those planning to trick or treat are encouraged to plan a route in advance while it is light to make sure there are no downed wires. Additionally, children should be accompanied by adults and limit activity after dark. Those out in limited light or darkness should wear bright, reflective clothing and carry flashlights.
Although we experienced significant damage and outages from Hurricane Sandy, in many ways we were fortunate to be spared from most destructive forces of this powerful storm, especially as we see reports of the damage to our neighbors to the north. While this has been the case, there is still much to clean up here and many potential hazards to be cautious about. Be safe today and tonight and throughout the remainder of the clean-up effort. Thank you.
By Jeannette M. Mills, VP, Customer Operations & Chief Customer Officer
As Sandy, now a post-tropical storm, moves inland after making landfall last night, we continue to feel the effects of this large and powerful system. High winds are forecasted to continue through most of today into this evening. This brings two distinct challenges to the power restoration effort: 1) storm-weakened trees and limbs are expected to continue to fall today, causing more outages; 2) damage surveyors and power restoration crews will be slowed by conditions too dangerous to make all necessary assessments and repairs.
Encouragingly the storm continues to weaken and move away from us and crews are standing by today to work when conditions permit. Gradually improving conditions will allow us to incrementally ramp up our power restoration plan
and devote more of the 4,500 employees, contractors, out-of-state linemen, tree personnel and support staff to restoration efforts. We know that restoration can’t come fast enough for customers without service
. That is why we have crews strategically deployed at four remote staging areas
across the region to speed the restoration effort.
As conditions improve somewhat we will have crews positioned in impacted neighborhoods to begin repairs. You may see workers suspend restoration efforts when dangerous winds increase, waiting in company vehicles rather than returning to staging areas to wait for the storm to pass. This reduces transportation delays and enables crews to take advantage of temporary breaks in the weather. To be clear, safety of employees and customers is the top priority
. We will work as efficiently as possible to restore customers, but only once conditions are safe.
Remember, if you experience a power outage, call our automated outage reporting system at 1.877.778.2222. Do not assume your outage has already been reported, and even customers with smart meters still need to report outages. You will be prompted for the phone number associated with the account so please have that ready. Please report the outage or downed wire only once. If you experience a new outage once power has already been restored, you should report the new outage. Calling more than once to report the same outage will not speed the restoration process.
Continue to expect outages to last for multiple days due the magnitude of this storm. In the initial stages of clean-up, an estimated time for restoration of the entire system may not be available until damage assessments are finished and BGE works through the first phases of the restoration process to repair the electric system backbone and public safety sites. We will only be able to give estimated times for restoration on a feeder and individual customer basis after damage to the system is assessed and we have high confidence in the accuracy of repair time estimates. While we know you want to understand when your power will be restored, we do not want to add to frustrations with inaccurate information. If you do receive an estimate, keep in mind that these timeframes may change as restoration efforts continue and specific outage causes are analyzed.
Thank you for your patience as together we meet yet another major weather challenge.
By Jeannette M. Mills, VP, Customer Operations & Chief Customer Officer
To restore electrical service to customers experiencing power outages caused by Hurricane Sandy, BGE is executing on a detailed and tested restoration strategy. The process really begins monthys in advance of storms as we analyze past storms and refine and practice plans. Our most recent company-wide training drill just occurred earlier this month when employees reviewed our storm response procedures to ensure they are up-to-date and in line with industry standards. Of course, we also learn from actual events and last summer’s Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee and this summer’s severe derecho storm tested our processes under real-world conditions. After each event we look at what we can improve and incorporate into our next response.
At the core of our plan is our restoration prioritization strategy. In severe storms with widespread damage, we first physically assess damage. You may see BGE and contractor vehicles crisscrossing the area. If you see a truck leave your neighborhood before your power is back on, please rest assured that we are not ignoring your problem. We may need to repair or replace larger power lines or equipment before the line to your home or business is restored. In fact, you may not see damage assessors at first if we have already determined that a problem further up the line affects your power. We also may not be able to fully assess damage or make repairs until weather conditions improve. For instance, we can’t safely do overhead work with bucket trucks when the wind exceeds 25 miles per hour. Our top priority is the safety of you and our employees.
While our goal is to always restore power to the greatest number of customers in the shortest amount of time, public safety issues, such downed wires, and critical customers – such as hospitals, 911 centers and water/sewage treatment centers – receive first priority. At the same time we are also focusing on the “backbone” of our distribution system - including transmission and sub-transmission feeders, substations and distribution feeders. These must be restored before service to downstream customers can be restored.
By focusing on the backbone of our distribution system, we are also working the large jobs that will restore service to the greatest number of customers. Then we address the overhead lines connecting to neighborhoods and transformers that reduce the electricity to a usable voltage for smaller pockets of homes or businesses. Only then can we address the loop lines that serve single homes and businesses.
We understand that while your power is off, you need to know when it will be restored, so you can plan. Unfortunately, with widespread outages and damage, we may not be able to provide individual estimated restoration times like we do with normal storms. Even an estimated time for restoration of the entire system may not be available until damage assessments are complete and the company works through the first phases of the restoration process to repair the electric system backbone, and address public safety issues and critical customers. In order to limit the understandable frustration that results when the company can’t restore power by a given time, estimated times for restoration on a distribution feeder line level or an individual customer basis will only become available to customers as BGE works through the damage to its system and the company has high confidence in their continued accuracy. Even then, these are estimates, subject to change. Plan for multi-day outages.
If you notice that your power remains off after service is restored to your neighborhood, call our electric outage number again at 877.778.2222. We won't stop working until everyone's power is back on.
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