NBC News: West Virginia utility companies have spent millions to mitigate power outages. Why do they keep happening?

West Virginia

A forceful and deadly winter storm named Shirley wrapped its unloving arms around Texas in February, leaving millions without heat or electricity, before moving on to disrupt the Mid-Atlantic region.

The typically warm-weathered state, with its independent electrical grid, soon became the center of national controversy over its unpreparedness.

Little, however, has been made of the destruction some 1,300 miles away in the mountain state of West Virginia, where the widespread storm downed trees, poles and power lines before tapering off.

Two ice storms, the first of which was related to Shirley,nailed the same six counties in a five-day span starting Feb. 11. The result was the state’s worst accumulated ice storm in almost a decade.

Nearly 100,000 residents were left without power as crews, who were warned and had prepared, struggled to clear roads of debris and navigate up and through the mountainous terrain to reach power poles and restore electricity to residents.

Recurrent power outages are a longstanding issue in West Virginia, where trees weighed down by ice frequently damage electric infrastructure.

Utilities in the state have spent nearly $1 billion since 2012 trying to reduce outages. Yet, interruptions have grown longer and more frequent.

Residents and utilities have seemingly been paying to fix an unsolvable problem.

“We have small cities and rural areas, and trees are our largest problem,” said Phil Moye, spokesman for Appalachian Power, an electricity provider largely covering the southern half of the state.

“Put yourself in that condition, where you’re climbing a mountain, climbing up a pole and bringing a line that’s heavy with ice, cutting trees with wearing ice cleats,” Moye said.

And there are a lot of trees. West Virginia is a heavily forested state, with 79 percent of its 15.5 million acres of land covered in forestry, according to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

After several severe storms over the preceding years, the Public Service Commission of West Virginia in 2011 forced several utilities — Appalachian Power and the Wheeling Power Co., which fall under American Electric Power, along with FirstEnergy, which includes the Monongahela Power Co. and Potomac Edison — to start producing annual power outage reports detailing their root causes and how long they lasted.

Officials say those utilities represent 96 percent of ratepayers statewide.

To read the full report from NBC News, click here.

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