PSC: Don't bury all power lines

The state Public Service Commission will give the utilities it regulates until March to respond to 64 findings and recommendations included Thursday in a report on how to avoid a repeat of problems caused by two huge storms that socked the state.

The 170-page report is called "Ike and Ice" because it deals with the high winds that caused problems as the remnants of Hurricane Ike blew through the state in October 2008, and the ice storm that came along in January 2009.

When the PSC hears from the utilities, it could change its regulations or ask the General Assembly to tweak laws, PSC Chairman David Armstrong said.

The January ice storm cut much of Kentucky off from the rest of the world and raised a cry to bury power lines, but the report said that shouldn't happen on a large scale.

"Based on the added cost, it is not economically justifiable to require burying all or even a substantial portion of the electric transmission and distribution facilities," the report said.

But burying lines should be considered in some areas, the report said, and the practice of burying lines in new developments should continue.

It also said that electric utilities should consider using stronger lines and placing poles closer together in some areas, and cell phone companies should look to generators to keep towers operating.

Another suggestion: Utilities should follow the lead of Duke Energy, which used Twitter to keep its customers in the loop. And they should arrange to have access to satellite phones for those times that land lines and cell phones fail.

The high winds from Ike left 600,000 utility customers in the dark, mostly in the Louisville area. Ike caused what was, briefly, the worst power outage in state history.

Then came the biggest ice storm ever recorded in Kentucky, and the Ike record went out the window. Nearly 770,000 customers — about a third of the state's electricity customers — were shivering in the dark.

The PSC's conservative estimate of the damage was $595 million for the wind storm and $616 million for the ice storm, for a total of $1.21 billion.

Those numbers don't include the costs encountered by municipal utilities and the Tennessee Valley Authority, which are not regulated by the PSC, or private property losses not covered by insurance or disaster assistance.

Most utilities keep local government officials up to date on who to call when a disaster hits, the report said, but a few "update their information less regularly."

Utilities and local governments that had practiced for disasters also fared better; the report suggests regular preparedness drills all around.

The report contains a number of suggestions to help residents be better prepared, including:

■ Keep flashlights and batteries on hand, along with non-perishable food and several days worth of water.

■ Know who to call if your lights or water goes out.

■ If you have a generator, know how to use it. Improper use of generators and heaters accounted for a third of the 36 deaths attributed to the ice storm, the report said.

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