Power companies across northern New England have struggled to restore power to rural locations since last weekend’s ice storm. Nearly a week after an ice storm coated parts of northern Vermont, some remain without power, and some areas that have been restored are experiencing spot outages.
The ice storm hit hardest in Franklin and Chittenden counties and the rural Northeast Kingdom in Vermont. At the peak of the storm, more than 20,000 customers had lost power in Vermont. In some cases, areas that have been restored continue to lose power and must be revisited by line crews. For example, Vermont Electric Cooperative reported 79 outages Friday morning but by afternoon there were 724. Green Mountain Power reported 2 outages Friday morning, but by afternoon it had increased to 516. Vermont Electric Cooperative’s website explains that sporadic new outages are occurring because of the weather and will continue until temperatures rise high enough to melt the ice. Green Mountain Power Spokesperson Dorothy Schnure says an ice storm is more difficult to deal with than any other type of weather damage. "Ice builds up on the trees, weighing down the tree branches and so you have trees and tree branches falling onto power lines. There's some places where the entire row of a line have tree branches hanging over them. So it's really difficult to deal with> Even after you do get everyone back on, you have new branches falling off. One of the things we do expect to see is when the ice finally melts of of the tree branches and they spring back up that can cause additional outages. So it's a very different character storm than say a wind storm that comes in, belows through, blows down trees and tree branches and it's over and you repair. If it's an ice storm it continues to go."
The utilities in Vermont work in coordination with the Vermont Division of Emergency Management. Spokesman Robert Stirewalt notes that the spot outages are occurring throughout the affected areas. "That's the nature of the rural state. In that when you get into situations where the downed power lines on dirt roads that are hard to access and then trees go down on the lines, they're fixed, and then you have additional trees go down, it complicates the response. I'm not sure there's necessarily anything that we can do about it in the short term but in the long-term, we can look at it. I mean short of burying the power lines through the state, which isn't gonna happen."
Green Mountain Power’s Dorothy Schnure says utilities have maintenance plans to try to avoid potential problems. "We have tree trimming crews out year-round to keep our rights of way trimmed out. But still there are trees from beyond the right-of-way where branches can fall in. So in an area that is heavily wooded, you are going to have outages when you have an ice storm. One of the things that we do, and we have learned over the years, is to prepare well ahead for any storms. And we saw that this was potentially coming, so we arranged ahead of time for four hundred line workers and tree trimmers from out-of-state to come in and support us during this storm."
A meeting is planned next week by Vermont Emergency Management to review the storm response, according to Robert Stirewalt. "Every response is an evolving process, and we learn from every different response. We've had previous ice storms, and I think we're a little better prepared when the ice storms hit Vermont because were used to it."
Vermont utilities have set up a website for the public to track power outages.