Powerless: Trees down, irritation level rises

news-tree-downHeavy snow, saturated soil and high winds wreaked havoc on area trees.

Between Friday and Saturday night during last weekend's not-quite-a blizzard, 40,000 Dominion Power customers' lights went out in the Charlottesville area. The other major power provider for Albemarle County, Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, had between 11,000 and 13,000 households–- one third of its members–- sitting in the dark.

When such widespread, misery-inducing outages occur (like Hurricane Isabel in 2003), the perennial question pops up: Why aren't the power lines buried?

"It costs six times more to put power lines underground," says Dominion spokesperson Dan Genest.

news-poweroutDominion's interactive outage map.

"The state of Virginia did a study and the cost to bury lines throughout the state is $94 billion," says the Co-op's Greg Kelly.

Back in 2003, when 55,000 Albemarleans were without power, Dominion also told the Hook that line burial was cost prohibitive to the tune of"several million dollars a mile."

"It is prohibitively expensive in new subdivisions? " asks attorney Lloyd Smith, longtime advocate for buried lines. "They do it all the time. What about the expense to all the stores and businesses that don't have emergency generators? What about the safety of people in cold houses?"

Even when it's your neighbor's white pines that cause power lines to crash, the electricity providers are responsible for maintaining those rights of way.

"The Co-op has 5,000 miles of power line, much of that overhead and much through rural terrain with trees," says Greg Kelly. "We spend $1.4 million a year in maintaining the rights of way."  Co-op customers hardest hit in the most recent storm are in White Hall, Midway and Red Hill.

Kelly estimates "hundreds and hundreds" of trees down. He points to saturated soil, a very heavy snow and wind as factors in bringing trees down.

The Virginia Electric Co-op has a 40-foot right of way, and Dominion's is 30 feet. "If you have a 60-foot tree on the edge of the right-of-way and it falls sideways, it's going to hit something, says Kelly.

"This event is more trees than limbs," says Dominion's Genest. "This heavy wet snow is murder on pine trees. Limb problems are much preferred."

By 11:50am Monday, February 8, 2,688 Albemarle customers and 440 in Charlottesville were still without power. "We have made a commitment to get everyone back on by Tuesday evening," says Genest, noting another storm predicted for that day.

But Theresa Bergen has little faith in power company pledges. She says she was told Saturday when the power went out around noon in her Owensville Forest neighborhood that it would be restored at 5pm. That didn't happen, and on Sunday, again she was told power would be on by 5 o'clock, and she says her neighbors said they were told the same thing. Her power came back around 5– Monday morning.

"We could have gone to a hotel if we'd known," says Bergen. "We can't blame Dominion for the storm," she admonishes. "We can blame them for the lack of truth."

"We understand we're going to be accurate 80 percent of the time," says Dominion director Carl Zatkulak. He explains that when a large area is out of power and is restored, there can still be a problem with lateral lines to smaller groups.

"If the lights are still out, we create new jobs," he says. "There is the potential a customer will get a second or even a third [automated] call if we find additional problems."

And he mentions that Charlottesville will be the site of a pilot "smart grid" program sometime this year. All the meters have been replaced with ones that tell the electric company when customers have power– and when they do not.

At least Bergen, 85, and her husband were prepared with a camp stove, Coleman lantern and coffeepot. "When you've been married 50 years, you know how to be prepared," she says.

Now she just needs to get her phone service back on. "They told me it would be on Monday," says Bergen, "around 5 o'clock."

–updated 10:05am February 9.


Right on Lannie and Patsy. Our grandparents and especially great-grandparents would simply laugh at this thread. People are SO weak and dependent on government services and regulation today. "Whaaaa my phone doesn't work, my power was out for a WHOLE DAY and they said it would be back on by 3, it's COLD, these companies shouldn't be able to get away with such poor service". What a bunch of frickin babies. If you aren't smart enough to know how to heat and feed yourself for a few days or even a week without power, I feel really sorry for you.

It's EXPENSIVE to live in a rural area in all ways. We have long expensive commutes to buy milk or get to work; we must pay separately for relatively slow satellite Internet and television (because it's not cost-effective to for-profit companies to run the cables out here); our power is unreliable (so we're on our own to buy, maintain and fuel wood or kerosene stoves and propane or diesel generators); cell-phone service is spotty or non-existent so we must maintain land lines in addition to cell phone service. My wife had to stay at the Holiday Inn in 1996, pregnant with our daughter, during a previous many-feet-deep storm.

Living in the country also typically means more property to maintain, grass to mow, tree damage to clean up and taxes to pay...

and I, for one, am beginning to wonder what the heck I was thinking when we moved out here!

yeah Albemarle native, because canned food and kerosene/propane heaters are SO expensive...and before you spout off any more liberal hogwash about the underpriveleged, I LIVE HAND TO MOUTH TOO. You don't speak for me.

Lannie:you mention plenty of smart things your family does when dealing w/bad weather & lack of electricity:"we built a fire in our fireplace;We keep our propane tank filled;We always have canned foods on hand;We keep a good supply of batteries,.. etc".
Not every household has a fireplace.Many households in this very Cville/Albemarle area live hand-to-mouth/paycheck-to-paycheck each & every day.I wish we were all in such a position as to be so well-equipped for these situations.Such is life.A little venting during these stressful times can't hurt much when you've been cold for 48+ hours.

Albemarle Native-You're absolutely right, this is not a political issue. The snow didn't fall and power poles didn't come down based on whether you're "red or blue."

I think someone mentioned about cutting the trees back, thats all fine and dandy until someone complains about cutting that nice tree in front of their home. Then when the power goes out because of that tree they complain about it not coming back soon enough.

I deal with this type of mentality all the time in my job putting up cell towers. People complain all the time about the service, but when a tower needs to go up they complain about the tower. You cannot have it both ways. Be prepared, especially if you live in a rural area. To bury power line and all the due diligence and cost it would take to complete the task it would never get done.

Mike:This is a forum where anyone can speak their opinion within the stated limits.I'm speaking my own personal views & will continue to do so when I feel like it & you don't have to agree with them.You're the one spouting (seemingly with boiling anger).I have no idea how much propane heaters cost but I do know people who have to eat what canned food they do have & can't afford to store it.I personally know people who just (believe it or not) barely have running water out in the county.If you don't believe me contact AHIP.I responded to Lannie & don't care what political party if any she/he belongs to & I did it in a non-insulting manner because she/he is entitled to her opinion as well.It amazes me that there are always people like you who strive to categorize based on politics.The snow didn't see blue or red.Also I never called anyone "underprivileged".I don't know any "underprivileged" people & would never in my life use that word to describe anyone.Lastly,what the heck is your point by saying I don't speak for you? Good grief. Nope, I don't speak for you.

quote: "When such widespread, misery-inducing outages occur (like Hurricane Isabel in 2003)..."

A power outage during a hurricane is a walk in

the park when compared to extremely cold homes.

I think people better get a grip on their irritation. Looks like wind is on the way, and with more sleet/snow, and cold temperatures in the Tues-Wed forecast; this looks like the perfect storm for more power outages.

Albemarle native, excuse me for injecting politics into a non-political issue, but claiming that there are others who cannot afford this that or the other thing is a common liberal weapon used to invoke guilt in those who are thrifty, responsible, self-reliant, and prepared. No, you didn't say "underpriveledged" but it was heavily implied by basically saying that it's too expensive to be prepared for utility outages, cold weather, etc... If you can show me a household who HONESTLY can't afford a week backstock of hormel chili, a box of saltines, a small generator to run a heater, and a few gallon jugs of water, please let me know and I'll gladly contribute to help them out.

And Zino, you are a fool to think that I don't have a family to take care of. That is the EXACT REASON that I am prepared for an even such as we're having now (and worse).

Sure it would be great if the power crews had more man power, but right now they don't. Can we change that in the future, maybe. As for old people ( and what age are you referring to ?), some of them fare better than the current younger crop of entitled adults, and that goes for the children as well, unless they can't be away from electronic devices without going into withdrawal. Of course, that leave a small number of people who should not be in homes without electricity, and for them we have shelters and medical help. Get the drift-- make a change if needed or else buck up.

People need to toughen up and be prepared for the worst all the time. So much whining. This should really be only one more indication that we all need to move towards greater self-sufficiency and homegrown power sources. Then we would not need to depend on Dominion and the phone robot. Off the grid living is the answer.

ââ?¬Å?The state of Virginia did a study and the cost to bury lines throughout the state is $94 billion.” Amazing what reading an article can do to answer questions.

Before I take that as the truth, I'd like to see that study. Do you believe everything the government tells you ? And once again, how do other states manage this, and Virginia can't. I've learned from experience to be skeptical of government studies.

Kudos to Dominion Power workers. We were without power (and phone, internet, and satellite) until 5 am this morning. But we saw the Dominion trucks going by our area frequently. We even saw a helicopter following the power lines! Glad our utility bills and taxes are funding that.
I am impressed with how diligently the utility companies worked to restore service. I would love to see underground ulilities in the future though.

"ââ?¬Å?It costs six times more to put power lines underground,” says Dominion spokesperson Dan Genest."

"Back in 2003, when 55,000 Albemarleans were without power, Dominion also told the Hook that line burial was cost prohibitive to the tune of ââ?¬Å?several million dollars a mile.”"

Sure puzzled, everyone is lying to you.

What does get a grip even mean outward bound? Old people, children, people with medical conditions, in cold homes with no water should just "get a grip" and everything will be okay? I'd like to know what Dominion's profit margin is and I'd like to know what they are doing with the 18% raise in rates they were given by then Attorney General McDonnell speaking "for the people of Virginia" last July. It's expensive, so is Dominion's electricity, keeping the power on is part of business overhead. If they had started burying some lines years ago in non-rural areas they could have spread out the expense. They are a for profit, their share holders are getting money out of others' misery due to Dominion's lack of government regulation to put money into infrastructure. Nothern states don't let for profit utilities get away with this. No wonder Virginia is rated most business friendly in the country but you know what? That means least worker and least customer friendly. Corporatism is running this state. There is no excuse for not burying lines bit by bit over time.

Hey Puzzeled! Yes you are.............

"get a grip"......(sorry, just had to do it)......(perhaps it is just an old phase that the youngins' don't clearly grasp)

from The Free Dictionary

"get a grip (on yourself)-
to make an effort to control your emotions and behave more calmly "Come on, get a grip, we've got an important meeting in five minutes." "I just think he ought to get a grip on himself - he's behaving like a child."

The system that predicts when your lights will come back on is not useful in a large outage.

Here in Earlysville, the Dominion phone-robot promised noon Saturday, then 8pm, then 10pm, then noon Sunday, then 5pm, then 10 pm, then noon Monday.

The problem, according to Dominion, is that their system tracks individual work orders. There may be six things that have to be fixed before you'll get your power back. The robot, stupidly, provides the status of the one they're working on NOW.

I bet if you look at the long range costs of maintenance and repairs and the additional crews and equipment for overhead power compared to underground not to mention the lack of reliability and customer outage misery, that underground is not that much more expensive. You also have to take in consideration how the inexperienced low bid subcontractors from Texas that do Dominion's tree trimming trespasses on one's property without a clue where the easements are then butchers the trees leaving them to contract disease and die. The city council and BOS should require underground for all new home sites and in the case of subdivisions require the same to be paid for with proffers from the developer.

If they'd be more proactive about maintaining the rights of way, there'd be fewer outages of this sort.
Of course people squeal about having trees cut on their property and power company people have told me in the past that it's cheaper to fix the system than it is to go around cutting vegetation back...

I lost power for 3 days this time and only intermittent use of a generator kept the place from freezing up.

Just posted this on cvillenews.com but it seems relevant to repost here:

I found a link regarding that $94 billion figure via Google:


A couple excerpts:

ââ?¬Å?In public comments received by the SCC for the study, residential customers overwhelmingly favored placing utilities underground. But in follow-up questions, these same customers generally indicated they were not willing to pay enough to fully fund the work.”

The typical ââ?¬Å?I want high quality services but I don’t want to pay for it.”

ââ?¬Å?In 2003, Virginia’s largest electric utility Dominion Virginia Power installed approximately 96% of its new residential services underground. Appalachian Power installed nearly 70% of its new residential services underground, and Delmarva Power & Light installed 50% of its new residential services underground. Allegheny Power installed approximately 85% of its suburban and 50% of rural residential services underground. The exception was Old Dominion Power, which serves a mountainous area of southwest Virginia. Old Dominion placed 13% of its rural residential services and 8% of its suburban residential services underground.”

So.. most of the power companies are already doing this for new developments, to some extent.


And, if you have underground wires, like we do here at Lake Monticello.. it does no good when you are being fed by above ground lines. Unless the station or substation has underground lines, it's essentially only a cosmetic benefit.

unbelievable Zino! Mike, lets hope the exodus begins with the Spring thaw. Empty McMansions won't bother me a bit.

Mike clearly has no family to take care of... no children or elderly parents he wants to be comfortable. He's just full of tea-bagger outrage that people don't want to freeze to death or devote every spare penny to fuel and equipment. Some people would prefer not to breath kerosene fumes for days on end or worry their house burns up when the thing malfunctions.

Just because you're hostile doesn't mean you're right.

Albemarle Native-I'll give you the fact that not every house has a fireplace. We consider ourselves lucky that our VERY modest house does. As for living hand to mouth, I've been there and done that. I remember very well when my father had no idea where he would get his next rent payment. Sometimes our danger of not having electricity didn't come from a storm, but from a lack of money. My husband lived very much in the same situation, that's one thing that has taught us to be just a little bit self-reliant. We don't go out and spend a fortune when a storm is forecast, we stock up when items are on sale, and we rotate what we buy, so we're eating our emergency stock all during the year. If I have 2 cans of stew for dinner from my stash, I replace those 2 cans of stew the next time I guy groceries. All of that ice we keep on hand is stored in the freezer my father-in-law bought many moons ago to freeze home grown vegetables so his family would have food in the winter when he didn't get enough work to do a lot of store shopping. So, being prepared doesn't mean I don't know what it's like to be poor. Oh, and I don't resent the family in my neighborhood who had the resources to pay over $5000 for a full house generator. I don't resent their comfort as my husband stands out in the cold flipping hamburgers and turning hot dogs to feed our kids.

Mike, check here for Volunteer opportunities:


There are plenty of people who, for many reasons are not as well-off as you. If you really want to help others....You Can.

I don't understand this. I have a relative in the snowbelt of NY, in a very modest little town, and the power rarely goes out. What's up here-if other less well to do states can afford underground lines, why not Virginia ?

Wouldn't be the first time, that those in power tried to steer the discussion their way.

Not if it's a hurricane like the one that hit New Orleans

The major problem in New Orleans is the fact it's below sea level.

When a major road into Charlottesville has to be closed for hours and hours on Sunday, and then partially closed again on Monday (Rio Road) to clear fallen trees and repair downed lines and broken poles, this should tell people that what you see at home might not be what's going on along the entire feeder line providing power to your house. We live in an area that most would consider almost a town setting, but our power comes in on lines running through several miles of forested area. That's where our problem originated, off the road, not easy to get to for the power crews. From what I understand, they had multiple trees to cut off the lines, and then had to replace at least one pole before being able to splice lines. All of their equipment, including the pole, had to be carried in, could not be reached by vehicle. It would have been very easy for us to look out our window for over 24 hours and say, hey, the people across the street have power, why don't we? Through the years, we have learned that their power comes in on a different line, not quite as forested so more protected from fallen trees. Instead of complaining, we built a fire in our fireplace, closed off unnecessary rooms, left faucets dripping at night to keep our lines from freezing, put on layers, put perishables in coolers and cooked on our outdoor grill. We learned right after moving in our house that being close in doesn't guarantee constant power (5 days without power will teach you a lot.) We keep our propane tank filled and plenty of ice on hand for the coolers. We always have canned foods on hand that can be easily prepared in a kettle on the grill, or even in a pinch, shoved into the coals of a fireplace. We fill stock pots with water for drinking and the bathtub with water for flushing the commode. We keep a good supply of batteries and have a number of battery powered lanterns so we don't have to depend on dangerous candles. Not a fun way to live for days, but from experience, we know those days are going to come, so we try to be prepared. Now if we were in ill health or older, it would be much harder, but as long as we can, we will always try to be prepared to take care of ourselves instead of expecting immediate rescue from people who are trying their best and working under very bad conditions.

As if on cue, Zino arrives to prove my previos point. WHAT A WUS!

To ..much..weather ..news....head..spinning................