Just as sure as the wind blows AEP customer Kate Sturges said that the lights go out, in her north Columbus neighborhood.
“Every time we have a big storm, you know it's going to go out,” Sturges said.
Sturges pins the blame on power lines that run through tree limbs. Though AEP sheered some limbs in the area recently, attorney Rick Reese said that the company failed to adequately trim near Sturges’ backyard.
“They're towering right above the distribution lines,” said Reese. “You can seem them right over the distribution lines. See, these branches extend over the distribution lines.”
Reese is an attorney who used to work for the government watchdog agency called the PUCO and another state agency that often sued AEP. He said that limbs like those that are just feet or even inches from electric lines often snap during storms and knock out the power.
The limbs cause such a problem that customers pay AEP to keep trees trimmed in a zone called the right-of-away, which is typically a 10- 20 ft. radius.
AEP promised to get a grip on the problem in 2008, when it went to the PUCO to get extra money to trim trees and keep the lights on. PUCO officials signed off on a plan to stick ratepayers with the bill.
In all, customers paid nearly $105 million dollars over three years. In exchange, AEP was supposed to trim hundreds of thousands of trees.
10 Investigates learned that AEP failed to trim the number of trees it said it would last year. While the utility more than met its goal for 2010, 10 Investigates uncovered a document that shows AEP did not meet its own goal for 2011.
“We missed the mark a little bit, yes,” said AEP Vice President Tom Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick said that AEP simply underestimated how difficult and time-consuming it would be trim all of the trees.
“The circuits that we're getting into now are the circuits that have not been trimmed for a long period of time,” Kirkpatrick said. “They are more difficult to trim.”
Kirkpatrick said that AEP will make up for it in coming years and that the remaining trees are not a major threat.
“There's no question that contributes to the outages,” Kirkpatrick said. “But the vast majority of events like this that occur come from trees from outside of the right-of-way.”
Reese said that Kirkpatrick’s statements about the size of the issue was a bunch of “hooey.” “He doesn’t have any statistics to back that up,” Reese said.
AEP said that “extreme trimming” would be needed to completely control the problems in Sturges’ neighborhood and that neighbors are unwilling to put up with the way that would look.
The company also said that it was responsible for 31, 000 miles of line, making the missed trimming a relatively small amount
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