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CVPS earns national acclaim for Irene recovery

WASHINGTON – Central Vermont Public Service received the electric industry’s highest honor for storm recovery today for its historic response following Tropical Storm Irene.

CVPS was presented the Edison Electric Institute’s 2011 Emergency Recovery Award for its response to the August storm, which washed away roads, bridges, homes and more than 450 utility poles in CV’s territory.  Despite overwhelming challenges, including 73,000 customer outages and the isolation of 13 towns and thousands of customers, CVPS restored all electrical service in just five days.

“Irene presented some of the most difficult challenges in our history, but our employees reacted with poise and professionalism,” President and CEO Larry Reilly said.  “They put customers’ needs above all others and worked with extraordinary determination to restore service quickly and safely, and demonstrated once again their remarkable dedication.”

“CVPS’s preparation, planning and plan execution represent a model of how a rural electric utility should handle major storm situations,” EEI President Thomas Kuhn said.  “The company went to extraordinary lengths to prepare for the storm, demonstrating tremendous foresight and reaching out for mutual aid from as far away as Kansas, Missouri and Texas, since East Coast utilities were all preparing for the storm. That, combined with CVPS employees’ uncommon ingenuity and dedication to customers, allowed the company to restore service quickly and safely, in many cases well before customers were even accessible by road.”

Entire CVPS systems disappeared in the flooding, with no hint of where they previously existed.  The storm also damaged substations and hydroelectric plants, as record-high waters inundated station houses, undermined substation foundations and destroyed equipment.  Phone and cellular service were also interrupted, compounding the challenge of restoration and communication with customers and state and local road and emergency crews.

Given the destruction of hundreds of roads and bridges, CVPS initially thought restoration of electricity would take weeks, but officials decided early in the recovery that a lack of roads would not stop the restoration efforts.  Employees were told to do whatever was necessary to safely restore service. Employees:
·         Hiked, biked and used off-road motorcycles and ATVs to access areas where roads disappeared.
·         Hired a contractor to build a temporary road to bypass massive washouts and allow immediate access to several towns, including Mendon and Killington, after Route 4 was washed away. Crews restored all power in Mendon and Killington in a day; Route 4 took 18 days to repair.
·         Installed a portable substation to restore power to three isolated towns after the local substation in Rochester was destroyed.
·         Delivered hundreds of newspapers and flyers with storm information to the town of Rochester, which was cut off from all forms of outside contact for several days, when CVPS crews became the first outsiders to get into town.
·         Gained state regulators’ approval to survey, stake and build miles of entirely new lines in new places after existing lines and the roads they abutted disappeared – within an hour of making the case for the need.
·         Captured dramatic aerial and ground images of the devastation in areas most media outlets could not access, which helped the media, state and local officials and customers understand the severity of the damage early on.
·         Created a direct link, with the assistance of Public Service Commissioner Elizabeth Miller, between CVPS recovery planners and Agency of Transportation officials, which ensured critical cooperation between utility workers, AOT crews, National Guard staff and the Office of the Governor.  This significantly speeded restoration and road construction efforts.
·         Maintained constant contact with the governor’s press secretary, the spokesman for Vermont Emergency Management and news media to ensure regular, critical safety messages were delivered – starting three days before the storm.

“The level of collaboration with state agencies and the cooperation that blossomed was unprecedented,” said Joe Kraus, senior vice president for engineering, operations and customer service.  “In a situation that could have devolved to broad confusion, the state agencies, towns and CVPS found ways to work together, which allowed us to restore service much quicker than we initially anticipated.”

Kraus noted that this was the fourth time CVPS had won the EEI Emergency Recovery Award, which he called a testament to the company’s employees.  “Employees were single-minded in their resolve to bring some small semblance of normalcy to our customers, who in many cases faced devastating damage and losses,” Kraus said.  “Employees’ selflessness in the days just before and after the storm were the critical ingredient in our quick and safe recovery effort.”

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