COLUMBUS, Ohio — The chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio said Thursday that her agency will conduct a post-incident review of AEP Ohio’s decision to purposefully cut off power to thousands of customers this week.
In a statement late Thursday afternoon, AEP Ohio officials confirmed they will “fully cooperate with the PUCO and all of the regulators to discuss this week’s storm response. Also, as we do after every major storm, we will conduct our own internal review and evaluation.”
The statement also read: “We understand the hardship extended outages can create, and the frustration of our customers. These outages were caused by the storm and high winds that hit our service territory, combined with the high temperatures and resulting demand for power.”
AEP officials have said it was forced to cut off electricity to thousands of customers to avoid further damage to the electrical grid and longer, sustained power outages.
AEP officials said that storms Monday night and into Tuesday caused damage to high-voltage transmission lines that carried electricity throughout central Ohio.
As repair work was being done on those lines, the increased temperatures and peak use of customers caused overloads, which prompted the power company to cut off power to so many.
At its peak, 250,000 Ohioans were without power – including 170,000 in central Ohio, according to AEP. As of Thursday afternoon, restoration efforts had been reduced to 32,000 statewide.
Frustrations were clear. Both the Ohio Office of Consumer Counsel and the Ohio Manufacturers Association called on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to investigate AEP Ohio’s intentional outages.
A statement from the OMA mentioned that manufacturing customers “of AEP Ohio have been paying significantly higher electricity charges for transmission investments, distribution investments, and ‘smart grid’ features that were intended to improve grid resiliency and avoid intentional load shedding – that is, turning off customers' electricity. Intentional load shedding should be a last resort, as it puts lives at risk and significantly disrupts our economy. This week's extreme weather was predictable, and the grid failures may have been preventable.”
In an interview with 10 Investigates, Jenifer French, the chair of the PUCO said that the timeline for looking into what happened is unclear.
“So what we are going to do is have a post-incident review like we commonly do in situations like this. So yes we will be performing that review,” French said.
French said the logistics are not clear but it is possible that AEP Ohio would potentially be called into to speak at a utility commission meeting.
“I know AEP understands that they are coming in and there is going to be a discussion of what happened and what if anything could have been done,” French told 10 Investigates Thursday.
The frustrations were felt in parts of Clintonville, where several houses remained without power Thursday afternoon. AEP Ohio said houses that lost power in that area were still without because of a piece of distribution equipment that needed to be repaired. Still, the pain felt from being without power was frustrating for neighbors who spoke to 10 Investigates.