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AEP officials face questions over power outages, restoration efforts

AEP officials said a combination of factors contributed to the current outages - which covered a large swath of the city of Columbus.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Officials with AEP Ohio apologized for the inconvenience of forcibly removing thousands of customers from the electrical grid, but the power company said it was necessary to prevent further damage and longer sustained power outages.

During a news conference Wednesday morning, AEP officials said a combination of factors contributed to the current outages - which covered a large swath of the city of Columbus.

Their explanation: storm damage from Monday night caused outages to high-voltage transmission lines. While repair work from those outages is ongoing, it created additional stress and overload on the local power grid, prompting AEP Ohio to forcibly remove customers from power.

10 Investigates asked Jon Williams, AEP Ohio’s Managing Director of Customer Experience and Distribution Technology, what message he would have to those who are frustrated and dealing with the heat?

“We’re sorry. We’re sorry. This is not something – the very last thing that we want to do is outage a customer. Very last thing we want to do. From an emergency standpoint we are doing this to protect the entire grid,” Williams said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, AEP Ohio officials said the timeline to restore most of Columbus was still set at 11:59 p.m. Thursday though Williams cautioned that was tentative and that some people in the red circled areas could experience additional outages.

10 Investigates also asked Williams why more customers weren’t notified in advance of Tuesday’s power outages if AEP Ohio had the ability to control which customers were removed from the grid – why weren’t people given a heads up?

Williams replied: “There wasn’t the ability to have a heads up. This was an emergency so as other transmission lines picked up the load, added the load, what happens is the load shedding that had to occur to support those other transmission lines that are overloading - they had to be brought down. It’s an automatic grid-enabled situation.”

Williams reiterated that the last thing they want to do is inconvenience customers without power during a week when temperatures were expected to remain in the 90s with high humidity.

Jennifer French with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio said the decision to remove customers from power came from above AEP – from PJM – the grid manager, which acts a bit like an air traffic controller monitoring the power grid for 13 states including Ohio.

“They are the air traffic controller… it was them, PJM, that ordered AEP Ohio to conduct these outages to protect the grid,” French said.

An AEP spokesman later told 10 Investigates that the decision to remove customers from power was AEP’s decision but that PJM likely would have told them to act had they done nothing.

“We do have this under control we are going to solve it within the next few days,” Williams said.

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