S.C. utilities scramble as ice storm threatens

rburris@thestate.comFebruary 10, 2014 

Midlands electric utilities were gearing up Monday for a significant ice storm that could cause power outages of up to five days.

Forecasters are predicting several inches of snow in the northern Midlands and a quarter inch or more of ice in the central Midlands beginning today and lasting through Wednesday, along with freezing rain from the Midlands to the coast.

“It’s really the frozen rain and icing that causes us the problem on our (power) lines,” said Keller Kissam, retail operations president for S.C. Electric & Gas.

The Midlands was spared from major power outages during a snowstorm two weeks ago when little ice accumulated. However, this storm is expected to be different. A half-inch of ice can add 250 to 500 pounds of extra weight to a power line, Kissam said. And that can lead to downed lines and major outages.

Kissam on Sunday night called back 140 contract linemen and nearly a dozen tree personnel who were sent last week to the Northeast to assist utilities there with a massive winter storm buffeting that region with heavy snow and ice.

An additional 140 linemen were called in from other areas to help with South Carolina’s impending ice storm. The first wave was expected to begin arriving Monday night from Kentucky. Additional crews were to begin arriving in the Midlands today from Indiana, Ohio and Michigan to help with the storm.

SCE&G, which provides electricity to 675,000 customers in the state and natural gas service to another 375,000, said it will be all hands on deck as the storm drops.

In all, more than 1,200 linemen, tree personnel and support staff will help man around-the-clock operations, Kissam said, to help prevent power outages where possible and restore power as quickly as possible.

Residents in the areas projected to be impacted were urged by the power companies to get needed prescriptions filled, and stock up on batteries, candles and bottled water.

Meanwhile, four electric cooperatives that serve 291,000 Midlands residents also were preparing Monday.

“We believe the Midlands may have to deal with the ice,” said Van O’Cain, association spokesman for The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. “We hope it’s not a statewide event.”

The four Midland co-ops — Fairfield Electric, Mid-Carolina, Tri-County and Edisto Electric — also have taken an “all hands on deck” approach to the storm, O’Cain said.

If the storm inflicts substantial damage to the cooperatives’ 70,000 miles of power lines, the association said, the cooperatives would call in crews from other states to help with restoration efforts, depending upon how severely their own states may be hit. First though, co-ops in the Upstate and the Lowcountry would be called in to assist with outages in the Midlands, O’Cain said, as damage in their immediate areas permit.

Also, the co-ops and SCE&G urged residents to contact their utility companies ahead of the storm, if possible, in case they see trees or limbs that appear to threaten power lines if they should ice over. If power lines are downed, residents are urged not to go near the lines, but to call their utility.

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