More than 3,000 Aiken County residents are still without power due to damage from last week's ice storm.
Both SCE&G President of Retail Operations Keller Kissam and Aiken Electric Cooperative CEO Gary L. Stooksbury spoke with the Aiken Standard on Monday to give an update on outages throughout Aiken County.
Prior to the storm, SCE&G brought 241 crews in last Monday before many lost power. Crews drove into Aiken as far as Michigan, Ohio and Indiana to assist with power needs for up to 50,000 customers.
Aiken Electric Co-op brought personnel from Mississippi, Georgia and parts of North Carolina.
“ ... We just dropped below 7,000 customers in Aiken County (as of Monday morning),” Kissam said. “Majority of those are centered in downtown Aiken as well as North Augusta ... We have enough crews here where every six to seven customers has a lineman.”
Out of 29,000 customers without power under Aiken Electric Co-op's service territory, only about 3,500 residents or less are still warming their hands, according to Stooksbury. The company estimates the total cost in dollars to be about $2 million.
“In 2004 people were without power for right at seven days, and it cost us $1.7 million,” Stooksbury said. “Our estimation, this has to be probably an eight-day occurrence with an excess in $2 million.”
The company has a line of credit with a couple of bankers that finance the facilities, according to Stooksbury who hopes that Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse the company for 75 percent of the costs.
SCE&G has an emergency storm reserve fund of about $25-$30 million set up to collect monies over a period of time, according to Kissam. Lodging and fuel carry a large burden of the cost, but also cost for transformers and poles and wires can carry a significant cost.
The longevity of the power restoration process has not been lost on many, with residents wondering why it has taken so long to get power back. Stooksbury said the company incurred a tremendous amount of damage with a lot of broken poles.
“A lot of times when you got several poles that are broken, it just takes several hours to complete these tasks,” Stooksbury said. “Sometimes we get lucky on these circuits ... sometimes you're at one location for longer than you would like to be.”
Workers with both companies are also working around the clock battling sore muscles, minor injuries and fatigue.
“Our workers are working 16 hours a day,” Stooksbury said. “They will likely total 192 hours per person ... We can only work 16 hours a day safely. You've got to realize we've been doing this, they've (residents) been out of power and our guys have been working that long.”
Both SCE&G and Aiken Electric Co-op reported that if there is damage to equipment where a service line enters a home, a licensed electrician may be needed to repair the damage before both companies step in. Both will replace the line to the home but not the weatherhead or the meter base.
Kissam urged customers to contact SCE&G's customer service to find out updates and times when their homes would regain power. While crews do thank resident's for their kind gestures and southern hospitality, anytime crews stop working just delays the process.
“We know this is a major inconvenience; we apologize for it,” Kissam said. “We work very hard throughout the year to condition our system to handle these types of situations where they cause as minimal impact as possible.”
Like SCE&G, Stooksbury said the company takes power outages personally, and after six days, understands the disappointment.
“We do appreciate the members' patience and understanding,” Stooksbury said. “We take this real personal, and we see it as our grandmother is out there without power.”
For customers of Aiken Electric Co-op, Stooksbury said they anticipate power to be back on by today, but realize, with some individual needs, power may not be restored until Wednesday.
Based upon crew efforts around the County, SCE&G would have 90 to 95 percent of the power restored by 11 p.m. last night, Kissam said.
“That's the plan, and we still have a high confidence level in that,” Kissam said. “There are still some customers who have structural damage to their homes because of tree littering to our neighborhoods here, and those cases may have to do some of their own work to their residence to restore power.”
For SCE&G customer service, call 1-888-333-4465.
For Aiken Electric Co-op customer service, call 877-264-5368.
Maayan Schechter is the city beat reporter with Aiken Standard. An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism degree from the University of North Carolina Asheville. Follow her on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.