SCE&G is telling its 726,000 S.C. electric customers to prepare for sustained power outages as Hurricane Florence comes ashore, but the Cayce-based utility is not publicly estimating how many could lose power.
“If somebody could tell me where this joker is going and what the wind speeds were, I might be able to take a stab at it,” SCE&G Chief Operating Officer Keller Kissam told reporters Thursday. “But based on the unpredictable nature of this storm, we’re unable to guess. … If it’s 250,000, we’re ready. If it’s 25,000, we’re ready.”
But Kissam warned line repairs could be delayed because of Florence’s speedy winds and other factors, such as flooding. He encouraged customers to be prepared for a weeklong outage, the same advice the utility gives before any major storm.
Other S.C. utilities offered similar advice Thursday ahead of Florence’s arrival.
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“We don’t know what the hurricane is going to do,” said Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore. “We are preparing for significant damage.”
Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina spokesman Lou Green said South Carolina’s 1.5 million co-op customers also can expect delays in restoring power.
“The combination of high winds and flooding creates a double whammy,” creating challenges to making repairs but also to reaching downed power lines or broken poles, Green said.
Duke Energy had said Wednesday it expected between 1 million and 3 million households in the Carolinas to lose power because of Florence.
Kissam warned Florence’s speedy winds could delay SCE&G line repairs, since the utility won’t lift its linemen in bucket trucks if winds are stronger than 35 mph.
Florence’s slow trek across the Carolinas also could exacerbate customers’ frustrations, Kissam said.
He said the utility expects to repeatedly repair the same lines as the slow-moving storm parks over the Palmetto State.
Some customers might see their power go off and on repeatedly, similar to what happened in the 2004 ice storm, Kissam said.
“It is such a slow mover,” he said. “It is going to impact our service territory, and it is going to be here for a day and a half to two days.”
Kissam said SCE&G has about 3,000 workers ready to respond to the storm, including 500 linemen and other workers from utilities in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi.
Duke said it has more than 20,000 workers — half of them from other utilities — ready to restore power in the largest storm mobilization ever for the Charlotte-based company, which serves more than half of South Carolina.
South Carolina’s 20 electric co-ops collectively had about 2,300 employees ready Thursday, plus another 750 line workers from other states.
About 1,500 Santee Cooper employees are working for the storm, Gore said.
SCE&G’s worst-ever outage was during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. About 300,000 households lost power then, and it took nearly three weeks to restore power to everyone, a spokesman said.