The February ice storm caused widespread power outages across York County.
The February ice storm caused widespread power outages across York County. (Bil Bowden photo)

The three electricity companies that serve York County sustained more damage during the February ice storm than during Hurricane Sandy.

Across the state more than 970,000 residents were without power during the first week of February, but that was substantially fewer than the number of outages logged when Sandy ravaged the East Coast, executives said.

"We learned a lot from Sandy," said Dennis Urban, vice president of finance and regulatory affairs for PPL.

During Sandy and the February ice storm, the largest amount of damage was caused by trees falling on utility lines, he said.

Utility companies had to replace several hundred more utility poles, wires, circuit breakers and transformers during the ice storm than after Sandy.

In the 18 months after Sandy, PPL, PECO and Met-Ed have invested millions to remove trees and upgrade their infrastructure to better withstand severe weather, executives told lawmakers Thursday.

Urban testified before the state House Consumer Affairs Committee in Harrisburg, along with Michael Innocenzo, chief operating officer for PECO, and Dave Karafa, president of Pennsylvania operations for First Energy, parent company of Met-Ed.

The goal: The purpose of the hearing was to help lawmakers establish better policies and encourage utilities to use better practices that might reduce or prevent lengthy power outages, said committee Chairman Rep. Bob Godshall, R-Montgomery County.

Even though there was more damage during the February ice storm, utility providers were able to restore service faster than during Sandy, executives said.

About 70,000 York County residents were without power hours into the ice storm, but that number dwindled every few hours. However, there were a couple of thousand local residents who were without power for nearly a week.

"York County was one of the hardest hit areas," Karafa said.

Met-Ed, a First Energy company, serves most of York County.

"Our restoration efforts were well managed, effective and safe, but we believe there's always room for improvement," he said.

New feature: On Feb. 28 First Energy made available a new online feature for customers that will allow them to track when a crew has been dispatched to repair their outage, when crews are actively restoring the outage and when it will be complete.

The company made the feature available after realizing its online outage map received 132,000 mobile page views on the first day of the storm and another 82,000 customers logged on to the full website, Karafa said.

First Energy is spending $83.5 million this year to trim trees, and more than $366 million has been spent in Pennsylvania during the last three years to improve reliability, he said.

But tree trimming does come with its share of challenges when homeowners want to preserve their landscaping, Urban said.

"How do you get by homeowners who want to protect their trees?" Godshall said.

"We don't get around it. We go through it. Anything in the right of way of the wires, we have the right to remove," Urban said.

About 95 percent of residents are cooperative, he said.

The company works with the other 5 percent and plants replacement trees for the ones they cut down, Urban said.

Plans: PPL will be conducting helicopter patrols in its service area to determine where to cut down trees and replace its infrastructure with bigger, stronger wires and poles, he said.

PECO is spending $35 million this year to remove trees. But unless all lines are buried, no utility provider will be totally immune to tree damage, Innocenzo said.

But one representative said the efforts of the three utility companies weren't sufficient.

"I have grave concerns you're not doing enough to prevent these outages. The responses is great, but you need to do more to prevent them," said state Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery County.

—Reach Candy Woodall at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.