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Downed trees blamed for most outages in Oct. storm

Associated Press Modified: May 31, 2012 at 12:30 pm •  Published: May 31, 2012

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Downed trees rather than transmission system problems were largely to blame for widespread power outages during a freak October snowstorm in the Northeast last year, a report by federal regulators and a utility group said Thursday.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and North American Electric Reliability Corp. also said inaccurate weather forecasts led utilities to initially rely on their own crews rather than call for mutual aid, delaying repair work.

The report said that in the Pennsylvania-to-Maine region, 74 transmission lines and 44 transmission substations experienced outages. Those problems caused less than 5 percent of customer outages at the peak of the Oct. 29-30 storm, which left more than 3.2 million homes and businesses without power.

The report said nearly three-quarters of the transmission line outages occurred when trees fell onto power lines, and that many of the trees are beyond utilities' rights-of-way.

Precise measures of the total physical damage to the electrical distribution systems are hard to determine, the report said. But it estimated that 50,000 locations across the Northeast required utility crews to remove trees or repair distribution lines.

The report did not address communications problems between utilities and municipalities. Jette Gebhart, a lawyer at the federal agency, told reporters on a conference call that the report focused on issues related to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's jurisdiction and the utility group's reliability standards.

The report also said emergency preparation and response are "almost entirely outside" the regulators' jurisdiction.

Still, it said a review of the impact of utility preparation and response on restoring power "found no indication that inadequate preparation materially hindered restoration of transmission facilities" that are larger and operating at a distance from trees.

The report instead said the problem was primarily with distribution lines, which operate in residential and commercial neighborhoods and were brought down by trees and branches.

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