by mark ballard
and will sentell
Capitol news bureau
August 31, 2012
Shortly after noon on Thursday, a crew of DEMCO utility workers finished replacing a burned jumper at the Live Oak substation in Watson.
“Once they squeeze each side they are going to heat ’er up,” said Curtis Yaun, foreman of the crew.
And just like that, roughly 500 Livingston Parish residents were delighted to hear their air conditioners, refrigerators and televisions come back to life.
Utility company officials reported that restoration of power across Louisiana — but particularly in the Baton Rouge area — proceeded faster than anticipated Thursday.
Crews, who were sent out to assess damage, also were able to make some repairs and restore power to some customers, said Bill Mohl, president and chief executive officer of Entergy Gulf States Louisiana LLC and Entergy Louisiana LLC. The two Entergy companies service more than 1 million of the state’s electricity customers.
“We’re extremely pleased,” Mohl said Thursday night, adding that the survey of the work and timelines necessary should be completed Friday. “We expect to make substantial progress over the next couple days based on that assessment.”
About 81,300 customers had their power restored Thursday but that still left 39 percent of Louisiana — 821,707 of the state’s 2,111,977 customers of regulated utility companies — without electricity as night fell, the state Public Service Commission reported.
In East Baton Rouge Parish, 41 percent of the businesses, residences and other facilities — 81,134 customers out of total of 199,172 — were without power Thursday night, according to the PSC. But 11,992 East Baton Rouge customers had their power restored Thursday, the PSC statistics showed.
Livingston Parish had 56 percent of its electric customers out of power, 33,822 of 59,888 total customers, when the official counting ended for the day, according to the PSC.
Of those Livingston Parish customers, 39,120 buy their power from DEMCO, said David Latona, the cooperative utility’s manager of member and public relations.
“We’ve got some pockets that were just blasted in Livingston,” Latona said.
The peak outage for DEMCO in Livingston parish was about 27,000 customers, he said. By dark all but 13,873 DEMCO customers had their power restored.
Utility officials initially thought it would be Thursday before lessening wind and rain would allow engineers and others to start assessing damages, Latona said. But conditions improved enough for some work to begin Wednesday night, and then full speed ahead around daybreak Thursday, he said.
Forty-one of the 60 parishes reporting outages had fewer customers without electricity Thursday night as compared with Thursday morning, according to the PSC reports.
But restoration in parishes that still have flooding or suffered severe damage will take longer. The parishes of St. Charles, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, Orleans, St. John, St. James, Terrebonne and Tangipahoa still have at least 75 percent of their customers without electricity, according to the PSC.
“We want the utilities to do everything possible to restore power as quickly as they can, and we are monitoring outages throughout the state. I am especially concerned for people living in mobile homes, apartments and other places without good ventilation. August heat can be life-threatening if you don’t have air-conditioning or some type of relief,” PSC Chairman Foster Campbell, of Bossier Parish, said in a prepared statement.
In terms of total outages, Issac is the fourth most-damaging storm in Entergy’s history. Hurricanes Katrina, in which about 1.1 million Entergy customers lost power, was first; followed by Gustav with 964,000 outages; then Rita with 800,000; and Isaac with 769,000 without power at its peak.
Gustav caused severe damage to Entergy’s infrastructure, toppling towers and lines that transmit large amounts of electricity to substations, which reduce voltage to deliver to individual customers.
Since 2008, Entergy invested $535 million to harden transmission systems, Entergy’s Mohl said. Not a single line that carries the largest amounts of power was downed.
Entergy Gulf States had 12 lesser transmission lines damaged as were three substations by Isaac, he said. Entergy Louisiana had damage to 19 substations and 34 lesser transmission lines, he said.
Mohl said despite the promising start Thursday, a lot of very methodical, time-consuming and dangerous work needs to be done safely before systems can be re-energized.
But more than 10,000 workers are in Louisiana trying to restore power, he said.
Nick Saucier, a first class lineman with DEMCO, spent part of Wednesday night in a utility truck bucket. “We’re just trying to get the power back on,” Saucier said.