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updated: 8/9/2011 4:27 PM

Buffalo Grove officials, residents attack ComEd performance

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  • ComEd says it made a record effort to restore power after an unusually severe storm that rolled through the area July 11. Buffalo Grove officials and residents weren't accepting that explanation when they confronted ComEd officials at this week's village board meeting.

       ComEd says it made a record effort to restore power after an unusually severe storm that rolled through the area July 11. Buffalo Grove officials and residents weren't accepting that explanation when they confronted ComEd officials at this week's village board meeting.
    Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer July 2011

  • Trustee Jeffrey Berman was the most outspoken of the ComEd critics.

       Trustee Jeffrey Berman was the most outspoken of the ComEd critics.
    BILL ZARS | Staff Photographer September 2009

 

If ComEd officials found dealing with power outages challenging, they probably thought that was a walk in the park after dealing with the Buffalo Grove trustees and residents Monday night.

For two hours, two ComEd representatives fended off the verbal equivalent of lightning strikes, heavy wind gusts and torrential rain.

Trustees and residents aired their pent-up grievances regarding both ComEd's response to the outages and the utility's customer service, complaining that they were given inaccurate and untimely data during the recent storms that left thousands of Buffalo Grove customers without power.

Arthur Barsema, ComEd's regional director for external affairs, and Diane Emerson, external affairs manager, summed up their findings in a PowerPoint presentation. He said ComEd was working toward faster restoration and more accurate restoration time estimates.

"Certainly, we are always striving to improve performance," Barsema said. "We are attending numerous meetings such as this, to really discuss the significant impacts that we saw during the months of June and July."

ComEd offered statistics on the severity of the events. On July 11 alone, 850,000 customers were impacted, as 70- to 85-mile-per-hour winds gusted through the area.

ComEd, which serves 17,783 customers in Buffalo Grove, reported that approximately 1,598 customer interruptions occurred in the village on June 21, and approximately 8,434 interruptions on July 11.

The report said the utility deployed more resources than at any time in its history, with more than 1,100 crews using service personnel from 14 states. In addition, 77.8 miles of wire and cable, 600 poles and 1,000 transformers were replaced or repaired, and customer care fielded 1 million calls in five days, eight times the normal call volume.

The report said a more modern distribution system -- or "smart grid" -- would help. With the current analog meters, there is no automatic map of where the outages occur. And a smart-grid would be self-healing, rerouting power around a trouble spot in many cases.

The harshest criticism of ComEd came from Trustee Jeffrey Berman.

"I think the time for the banal and self-serving rhetoric has passed," he said. "Even considering its long record of poor service and unreliability, the level of abject frustration with Com Ed's performance this summer is particularly palpable. And it extends well beyond the confines of the Village of Buffalo Grove."

Berman said the community wants specific answers to some very basic questions, among them why there have been so many outages recently and why they have lasted so much longer, as well as what is ComEd doing to "enhance its capability to respond to adverse circumstances."

From his perspective, the existing ComEd infrastructure either wasn't well constructed or at least has not been well maintained and is incapable of withstanding ordinary conditions.

"If you build a system on balsa and chewing gum, figuratively speaking, and you repair it with duct tape and Kleenex, you have no credibility to complain that the wind and the rain caused it to break down."

He said it doesn't take a lot of imagination to cause a customer to wonder whether the extraordinary surge in the number and severity of outages Buffalo Grove has experienced could possibly be the product of manipulation and intended to gain support for a rate increase for the smart grid coveted by ComEd.

The Legislature has approved utilities in Illinois spending billions on the smart grid, but the legislation hasn't been signed by the governor. Proponents say it will save customers billions over 20 years by making the system more efficient, while opponents say the bill will cost customers billions to build a system that won't live up to the promises made, but will result in excess utility profits.

"Your own Power Point materials state that in return for a multibillion dollar rate increase, the smart grid would not have prevented roughly 90 percent of the outages," Berman said. "I hardly think that shows it to be a panacea."

Berman also read a statement from a Buffalo Grove resident who was severely affected by the outage.

"We were first told that it was a failed power cable. And then we were told it was a failed transformer. We were also told that our power outage could have happened at any time; it just so happened to occur two days after a major storm. It took three and half days to fix the problem. Yet, all along the way, for those three and half days, Com Ed led us to believe multiple times that the fix was hours away.

"If we were told that the fix would be three and half days up front, it would have been better than being strung along believing that the issue was being addressed promptly. We would have made other arrangements. We stayed in our home for three nights, and then left on the fourth night, the night the repair was actually made."

The resident said he "received several text messages between July 13 and July 16, and not a single one was accurate."

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