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updated: 8/17/2011 11:28 AM

Rolling Meadows the latest to vent at ComEd over outages

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  • Downed power lines such as these,  and the speed at which they were restored, were among the complaints Comed officials heard from Rolling Meadows residents..

    Downed power lines such as these, and the speed at which they were restored, were among the complaints Comed officials heard from Rolling Meadows residents..
    File photo/Jeff Knox


Rolling Meadows City Council members and residents took their turn venting to ComEd Tuesday night, as the company continued its tour of reporting its annual statistics to area communities.

For about two hours, ComEd officials were grilled over outage response times, shouted at by frustrated residents, and pleaded with by those who wanted fewer excuses and more action at Tuesday's committee of the whole meeting.

External affairs representatives Art Barsema and James Dudek gave a PowerPoint presentation to the board touting statistics and graphs showing information on length of interruptions, number of interruptions per customer and causes of interruptions, as well as what ComEd has done and is planning to do to improve its services.

Mayor Tom Rooney vented his frustration with the presentation -- which was not given to the board for review ahead of time and was not provided in electronic or print format to anyone before or after the meeting -- that focused on systemwide statistics instead of numbers specific to Rolling Meadows.

"When statistics go up that say Rolling Meadows customers are out more and are out longer … that just gives me a stick to beat you with, and go, my community is not being served. When I don't even have paper to look at and I'm squinting at a TV screen that's all pixilated … it doesn't make me happy as a numbers guy," Rooney said.

Rolling Meadows has 29 circuits that feed the city's 10,227 customers, Barsema and Dudek reported. The report said that 1.87 customers on average have seen an outage during 2010 -- a figure calculated from ComEd's systemwide performance for all of its 3.8 million customers. Residents and alderman alike said flat-out that they do not believe that statistic.

"I believe everything you say. I have faith in ComEd. And (that's why) I went out and bought the biggest generator I can find," Alderman John D'Astice said. "The biggest concern I heard is when people called asking for what to expect (for restore times), they didn't get anything. Don't sugarcoat it, just tell them. They're all adults. I've called and been told a tree fell on a power line; well, my power lines are buried.

"You need to get your act together. If I had a chance to switch, I'd go right now."

ComEd officials stressed that the current system does not automatically report where there is an outage, and they encouraged people to call, visit the website or even Facebook to report outages.

Dudek explained that when a resident calls to report an outage, the report is given an electronic time stamp; the report then sits in a queue until it is mobilized.

When the outage is restored, workers use a mobile dispatch system to close the ticket, which is then time-stamped. That process gives ComEd numbers to help figure what the average outage time comes out to per year. Dudek reported the average length of interruption in 2010 systemwide was 181 minutes, and Rolling Meadows came out to an average of 151 minutes -- a figure alderman Jim Allen called "hard to accept."

Out of the 10,227 ComEd customers in Rolling Meadows, 2,000 were without power due to the June 21 storm and 5,800 customers experienced outages during the July 11 storm, the report said.

Officials said the restoration strategy first focuses on the largest substations that serve the most customers. Then the focus turns to restoring power to life-safety stations such as fire stations. At that point, employees look for feeders to fix, which may restore several customers at once. Finally the focus turns to more involved devices and services such as labor-intensive fixes like downed trees and poles, which affect fewer customers.

ComEd officials used this example to explain the need for modernizing the grid to a "smart grid" that they said would provide services like auto-restoration and auto switching, to help minimize restoration times and use those resources in other affected areas. Officials noted that the new equipment, grid, underground cables and other options would reduce outages, noting that 150,000 to 250,000 customers who experienced recent outages would not have if the equipment had been updated.

The legislature has approved utilities in Illinois spending billions on the smart grid, but the bill has not yet been signed by the governor.