One of the greatest threats to reliability of the power grid is weather. In 2017, severe weather took center stage when Hurricane Harvey barreled ashore in Texas. The storm, with triple digit wind gusts and heavy rain, battered part of the AEP Texas service territory, leaving hundreds of thousands without electricity and testing our Incident Command System (ICS) and business continuity plans.
Hurricane Harvey was the largest storm to hit the AEP Texas service territory in 44 years, knocking out power to approximately 220,000 customers at the height of the event.
Hurricane Harvey was the largest storm to hit the AEP Texas service territory in 44 years. The Category 4 storm made landfall in Rockport, Texas, knocking out power to approximately 220,000 customers at the height of the event. The damage was extensive to poles and wires, substations and service centers. AEP Texas estimated that at least 5,726 utility poles and 766 transmission structures were damaged or knocked down by Harvey. Approximately 5,600 utility workers from across the country mobilized to assist AEP Texas in restoring service – the most resources ever used by the company during a single recovery event. AEP Texas also became the first operating company within AEP to use ICS during a major storm recovery effort. And while power was restored to most customers within 14 days, a number of learning opportunities were identified to prepare us even more for the future.
Social media played a critical role during the crisis, sometimes providing the only communication link with our customers. We were able to communicate with key stakeholders, officials and customers who wanted and needed timely information about restoration efforts.
Sadly, a line contractor working on behalf of AEP to help restore power was fatally injured during the outage restoration effort. Following that event, AEP Texas temporarily halted operations with all employees and contractors to ensure everyone remained focused on safety as they continued to restore power.
Technology played a vital role in the recovery effort. Drones and helicopters, along with their digital mapping capabilities, were used to facilitate damage assessments in areas that were not accessible due to damage and flooding. In 2017, drones were used to help restore power following the Category 4 Hurricane Harvey that struck the Gulf Coast, proving to be a cutting-edge technology for use in disaster recovery.
In August 2017, an outbreak of severe thunderstorms in Oklahoma spawned four tornadoes in and around Tulsa in one day.
The damage caused by Hurricane Harvey was significant to both the transmission and distribution systems, with an estimated cost of approximately $325 million to $375 million, respectively. Approximately 70 percent of customers in the Corpus Christi district were left without power after the storm. The amount of transmission and distribution conductor that had to be replaced extended over 700 miles.
The storm may be history, but the work is not over. AEP Texas has embarked on a long-term program to harden the distribution system to reduce outages and minimize future tropical storm damage. This includes larger pole diameters and shorter spans of lines.
In January 2018, AEP Texas announced it would expedite rebuilding a vital power line from Aransas Pass to Port Aransas that was devastated by Hurricane Harvey. The work will strengthen the local transmission grid and provide storm-hardening for the existing infrastructure. The new line is expected to be re-energized this year.
AEP employees stepped up to help their neighbors in Texas. Two Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) power plants – Tulsa Station and Oklaunion Power Station – donated supplies of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) to help feed victims in areas ravaged by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida. Employees also reached into their wallets to help storm victims. AEP set up a Hurricane Harvey Fund, administered through The Salvation Army, to collect donations from employees and retirees. The AEP Foundation pledged to match employee contributions dollar-for-dollar up to $50,000 but when employee donations exceeded that amount, the Foundation increased its match. The final combined donation to help victims of Hurricane Harvey was $186,252.
Employees and contractors across the AEP system not only helped to restore power in Texas, they also went to Florida and Georgia after Hurricane Irma. And in December 2017, AEP answered Puerto Rico’s call for help to restore power there after the island’s grid was destroyed by Hurricane Maria, leaving more than 3 million people without power for more than five months. In addition to sending teams of employees, AEP sent materials and equipment to the island.
Once Puerto Rico issued a formal request for help from the American Public Power Association and the Edison Electric Institute, it paved the way for our industry on the mainland to fully support the restoration efforts on the island. AEP and its subsidiaries are among several U.S. mainland energy companies providing resources and workers in Puerto Rico. Recovery of costs will be funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Mutual assistance is a hallmark of the electric utility industry because we know how important it is to restore service as quickly as possible after a major event such as a hurricane. The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) honored AEP with seven Emergency Response Awards, which recognize member companies that show outstanding efforts to restore service after severe weather or natural disaster. This distinction acknowledges AEP’s 2017 efforts to help customers impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
AEP Texas received an Emergency Recovery Award for its response after the Category 4 Hurricane Harvey hit the state. This award is for member companies directly impacted by a severe weather event.
Six AEP operating companies received Emergency Assistance Awards for providing outstanding support to other companies during Hurricane Irma. AEP Ohio, Appalachian Power Company, Indiana Michigan Power Company, Kentucky Power, PSO and Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) were all recipients of this award.
We don’t do this work to receive awards, but recognition of the work our employees do to restore power for others is gratifying.
Hurricane-force winds were not the only major event that impacted AEP’s service territory in 2017. In August, an outbreak of severe thunderstorms in Oklahoma spawned four tornadoes in and around Tulsa in one day. The twisters, one of which registered as an EF2 tornado (winds of 111-135 mph), caused severe damage to homes and businesses and service disruptions for more than 14,000 PSO customers.