Isabel Leaves C’ville Powerless

24 hours after Hurricane Isabel, Central Virginia is a mess. Outside of immediate downtown Charlottesville and a smattering of places nearby, electricity hasn’t been available for miles around for nearly 12 hours. Looking at Charlottesville from above tonight, it is completely dark, save for a dim glow from Main St. 1.4 million households in Virginia are without power, and Dominion Virginia Power says that the time frame for restoring power is “long-range”. Power crews say that there are hundreds of downed lines and poles in Charlottesville and Albemarle alone. Dominion is describing this as “the worst storm in the company’s 100-year history.” They’ve asked that customers notify them of damage by calling 1-888-667-3000. Of course, nobody in Charlottesville or Albemarle is able to read this, so I’m pretty much just talking to myself here.

24 thoughts on “Isabel Leaves C’ville Powerless”

  1. Well, I can read it.

    I must be very lucky. Our power came back on after only a 10 hour outage. The only thing I can figure is that our proximity to Martha Jefferson Hospital is what got our part of the grid worked on first.

  2. Apparently the Locust Ave. corner of town got power back gradually from about 10pm to 3am last night, they must have been some of the first. They had it back while Downtown was still dark, though given Downtown’s terrible grid I’m not surprised.

  3. I toured part of Albemarle County on Friday morning, with the last raindrops from Isabel still spattering my windshield. Twigs and green leaves scattered across the roads, every half-mile or so a fractured pine tree or a downed fence. Moorman’s River frothing with muddy racing water–but still contained within its banks. I saw one dead deer by the side of the road, presumably the victim of a driver the previous evening who could not see it in the rain.

    Overall, Id say it was about the same level of damage as wed get from a bad thunderstorm–though over a much wider area since the whole county was like that. Seems to me the worst thing about that hurricane really was the frightening relentless windy cable news coverage.

  4. Our lights went out at 6 Thursday night, and came back on just before 8 past night – frankly, much earlier than we had feared. Give Dominion credit for some pretty good advance planning – they had an army of trucks and workers from PIKE Power in Mount Airy, N.C. lined up and ready to go in the K-Mart parking lot Friday morning, just a few hours after the storm had passed. By the time we finally found a place to eat and headed home, they had been dispatched.

    I think we were fortunate to live relatively close to the DOminion Power shop.

    Two neighbors across the street just couldn’t handle being without power and purchased HUGE generators – one came on as soon as the power went out, and we could hear it over the blowing wind. The other brought home a nice shiny new enormous generator around 7 pm, hooked it up, and we could see them watching TV (now how pathetic is that? Buying a generator to make sure you don’t miss a rerun of Buffy The Vampire Slayer?). That one was intrusively loud (we live in the semi-country). We couldn’t help but laugh when the power came back right after they finished hooking it up.

  5. The box is sitting, conveniently, in the Landers Underwriting office on the corner of 5th and Main, right on the Mall, where power was only out for ~12 hours, maybe less. And I am sitting, conveniently, no the corner of Lee and Main in…er…Blacksburg.

  6. My power went out 4pm on Thursday about an hour and a half after my cable gave up the ghost. I guess because I live on Park St, I honestly didn’t think it’d be THAT long before my power went back on.

    I guess my question is why did my parents – who live in Advance Mills and are Rappahannock customers – manage to keep their power throughout the storm? Another friend of mine, also a Rappahannock customer said her lights flickered but never went out. My sister, who lives in NoVA didn’t lose power (not a Dominion customer), but most of the Dominion customers around her did lose power.

    Am I missing something?

  7. I’ve lived in Sugar Hollow for 4 years now, and have been through at least four weather events that were scarier and/or more inconveniencing than Isabel was here (not to diminish how hard it hit millions of other people). Maybe to compensate for power outages earlier this year, ours stayed on the whole time, except for a bunch of 1-2 second dips. Six inches of rain, but spread out over 8 hours, so no major driveway washouts. Wind at its worst wasn’t as bad as it has been in several "ordinary" thunderstorm events. Last year’s golf-ball-sized hailstorm took out my windshield and sounded like the end of the world; Miss Isabel just wasn’t in that league.

  8. If the power lines between your home and your transformer, adn between the previous transformers and your transformers, and between eariler transformers and the generator didn’t go down, you wouldn’t lose power. Generally, in a storm like this, fallen trees cause the power disruptions – it’s not a case of the power plant going down, it’s a case of a telephoen pole going down, or a transformer blowing. If that didn’t happen to your line, you wouldn’t lose power.

    The fact that your parents didn’t lose power had nothing to do with their power company or yours. It had to do with the fact that their power lines weren’t knocked down.

    In any case, I hope your power is back on now!

  9. I knew you were gone gettin your schoolin on, but I thought the box was still here.

    And it appears I was correct :) I didnt realize that downtown, of all places, had power. The power goes out downtown when you sneeze.

  10. I talked to a va power lineman in the morning. He was working on the other end of my road. He said that my power was out because of a tree down on my end of the road, he didnt know when it would be fixed but said a seperate truck was dispatched to fix it already.

    So the only thing that kept my power out was ONE tree. at the end of my road there was power, all the stores were open, etc.

    What I dont understand, is how can someone STILL have no power. My friends in scottsville say they have no power still. How many trees could be between them and power? 10? Even then, how long could that take?

    We all need to generate electricity at home. Just think about how much energy is lost as heat or EMF in the transmission process

  11. When you have one, two or ten power lines between transformers and homes across the entire state, with a limited number of people who can repair the damage, it’s gonna take a while.

    Nobody wants to be last to get their power back on, but from a distance Virginia Power seems to be doing a good job.

  12. We live off Meade Avenue. Everyone around has electricity but our block. We were told by Va. Power that we wouldn’t have electricity back on until next week.

    What’s frustrating to us who live on this block is that we’ve been dealing with power outages for at least 11 years and asked Dominion repeatedly to fix the situation. Our power goes out in a heartbeat and we are always last to be repaired. I understand that we have at least count 20,000 in C’ville without power and I had assumed already that our power would be out for the week. I don’t understand why in 11 years Dominion couldn’t have done something to fix our particular problem. We’ve written letters to no avail. On our battery operated TV last night, Kent Hill, Dominion’s spokesman said that those who had to wait until next week lived in areas which had too much wet ground, lost trees, downed lines, snapped poles. So I’m wondering why are we in that category? I see none of these in my block.

    I’m not the only one. There’s a section off Park Street just as it turns into Rio Road — no electricity on the other side. Agnor Hurt School has electricity but the little trailer park across has no electricity — I saw people with a lot of candles inside. (How safe is that?) I have to wonder if Dominion Power has placed too much emphasis over time on generating power and not enough on maintenance of lines.

    It’s not to say that Dominion isn’t going a good job — I think that overall with this amount of people out, they did try to plan and get additional help.

    And I’m at work which has electricity.

  13. What’s frustrating to us who live on this block is that we’ve been dealing with power outages for at least 11 years and asked Dominion repeatedly to fix the situation.

    Short of burying all the transmission lines, which would be extremely expensive (and would no doubt be reflected in your future bills!) I’m not sure what they can actually do.

    As for the generating power vs. upgrading lines issue, you can thank your state and national governments for that. Before deregulation, power companies were considered public utilities. Now they are competitive entities who answer to shareholders instead of the public good. They have no incentive to upgrage – it’s much cheaper to repair when broken.

  14. Well, my point is that if 13 families keep having power outages and the rest of the neighborhood doesn’t, perhaps there is a problem and Dominion should either fix it or switch half of us over to Meade/Little High/Jefferson grid/transmission poles. Those streets have not had the power problems like we have had in the past 11 years. Certainly, it would be useful if anyone at Dominion took our problems seriously enough to send someone from either operations or construction side of their company to review WHY we have outages. The woman at Dominion reviewed our outages and said that we had "quite a bit of them" for this year.

    But your point about generating vs. upgrading, I know well who to thank. Gilmore and Allen were really big on deregulation in Virginia. But I doubt that they are sitting in the dark. Our latest estimate, btw, is now mid-week. One woman at work said that she was told Saturday so I guess we are "lucky." Thanks.

  15. Why do you think deregulation has anything to do with your problem? Do you generally find City Hall or the water authority any more responsive to these sorts of requests than the power company?

    Deregulation never had anything to do with what you think it does. All it really meant was floating the prices and allowing the power companies to buy and sell power on the grid freely, which theoretically means lower prices since they can buy power from less stressed systems at peak demand times rather than building more plants – or they can build plants to sell to other systems for higher prices than VA customers can pay, which means we get more capacity with other customers bearing capital expenses. Deregulation doesn’t mean there used to be a "State Department of Making VEPCO Respond to Customer Complaints" and now there isn’t. VEPCO was never subject to state micro-management of that sort before any more than Dominion is now.

    Hope they get your power restored soon. Mine is still out too. The soil was so wet we have trees down all over, more than I think we would normally have – I still say this storm was not all that bad and we were a long way from the brunt of it.

  16. True, there was no "state control." However, prior to deregulation, when prices were artificially established without competition, power companies could make capital investments and still make a fair profit. Now it’s a lot more difficult to invest, because their bottom line is being pinched.

    Not much different from the airlines. Prior to deregulation, prices were artificially set, and the airlines had the cash flow to make substantial investments in equipment, not to mention in customer service.

    Deregulation generally means lower prices – isn’t that the reason for deregulation in the first place? Customer service is one of the first things to go when prices drop, especially in cases of pseudo monopolies like power companies. Dominion’s labor costs are pretty well establised, so where can they make dramatic cutbacks, other than in not upgrading their equipment?

  17. State control is never, under any circumstances better for the customer. What you’re talking about isn’t the way regulation worked. Power companies couldn’t "just make a profit" in the good ol’ days of regulation because neither they nor the state could predict costs with 100% accuracy and when costs didn’t exactly match forecasts they couldn’t simply adjust prices like any normal company, they had to go through a very cumbersome regulatory procedure which was by definition less efficient than a market.

    As I said, deregulation is mostly about letting companies buy and sell power to, from, and against each other. Cutbacks come, for example, from selling in different markets or from taking older or less efficient plants offline. Costs are not established when the amount of power Dominion generates is not fixed because the amount of the grid it powers is not fixed.

    There is really no comparison at all to airlines. Power companies don’t compete in the same physical space in realtime the way airlines do – you can’t just switch your house from one power company to another, they’re still effective monopolies – and more important, they don’t offer the same sort of individual and physical services directly to customers. So when you say "Where else do cutbacks come but customer service?" the question is somewhat absurd for utilities in a way it isn’t for airlines.

  18. That makes sense, and I stand corrected.

    It does seem, however, that back in the "olden days," when the utilities had to come to the governing authority, hat in hand, and politely beg for a rate increase, it was a lot easier for said governing authority to extract concessions from the utility in exchange for increased rates. Now it seems like it’s a simple rubber stamp process.

    The old system seemed to guarantee a respectable, yet conservative, return for the investors. Utilities were considered solid if unspectacular holdings. Now they are more market-driven, and as a result there is a lot more focus on the bottom line, which typically means cost-cutting. They now invest heavily in new power generation plants, because they can sell their excess juice at a handsome profit, and are letting the supporting infrastructure go to seed.

    Because of their position as quasi monopolies (in Va there is the possibility of competing power companies, though that situation doesn’t exist here yet), and because of the dependence our culture and society has on their performance as a service provider, responsible public oversight seems appropriate to me.

  19. I agree with the need for some oversight of the industry since it has so much ability to affect our lives (especially with respect to the environment) – that is an appropriate role for government. My comments on government interference always being bad for customers meant government interfering in the process of prices being set by market forces. And I still think that is what the emphasis on deregulation was all about, removing that inapproriate interference, not the appropriate oversight role.

    Btw, a story in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch says the State Corporation Commission is going to review Dominion’s efforts to restore power after Isabel.

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