SMECO Praised After Being Blasted

Leonardtown, MD - 9/14/2011

By Dick Myers

Southern Maryland Electric Co-op (SMECO) was praised THIS week for its response to the massive power outages in the wake of Hurricane Irene. “You did a very good job under tough circumstances,” said St. Mary’s County Commissioner Francis “Jack” Russell (D) during a briefing Tuesday from SMECO officials.

Commissioner Lawrence Jarboe (R: 3rd) noted he had not heard complaints about SMECO’s response like he did after Tropical Storm Isabel. “I didn’t run into that,” he said.

SMECO President and Chief Executive Officer Austin J.  “Joe” Slater said the co-op was blasted during three public meeting after Isabel. “That was a defining moment,” he admitted to the commissioners.

One of the big differences between then and now is a computer aided dispatch system in which crews in the field were automatically dispatched to their next job. “Isabel was the alarm to do this,’ said Sr. VP/Engineering & Operations and Chief Operating Officer Kenneth Capps.

During its peak Saturday night during the storm there were 108,809 outages out of SMECO’s 152,000 customers. The cost to restore the system was $6 million, with St. Mary’s and Calvert the hardest hit. Damage included: more than 300 broken poles; 415 cross arms; 465 cross arm braces; 11,101 conductor repair sleeves and 196 transformers.

At the height of restoration 145 crews worked with more than 560 workers, included crews from Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, the Carolinas and Pennsylvania.  “We were able to assemble a phenomenal workforce,” Capps said.

Slater noted the tremendous community support for SMECO and thanked the community for the outpouring. An example cited was the Maryland State Police supplying a helicopter and pilot to inspect the damage from the air. The presentation to the commissioners also showed a number of billboards around the area thanking SMECO.

Capps said the work is not finished. “We must inspect every overhead circuit over the next four to six weeks,” he said.