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Power outages frustrate residents and bring them together

Abby Leonard, left, with other members of Heritage Christian Church of Westerville, heard about the power outages and high heat and came Wednesday morning to Parsons Avenue to hand out cold freeze pops and bottled water as part of a service project.
Renee Fox
/
WOSU
Abby Leonard, left, with other members of Heritage Christian Church of Westerville, heard about the power outages and high heat and came Wednesday morning to Parsons Avenue to hand out cold freeze pops and bottled water as part of a service project.

Shuttered businesses, disabled traffic lights, warm refrigerators and blistering, humid homes are scattered across central Ohio as AEP power outages paired with an intense heat wave left tens of thousands of Columbus residents in the dark this week.

During a Wednesday news conference, American Electric Power blamed transmission line outages caused by high heat and storms earlier in the week for the targeted dropping of customers in various neighborhoods to prevent overloads on working transmission lines.

"We had a significant storm, that created a large number of outages on our transmission system, followed by hot weather. The hot weather has in turn created targeted areas of transmission overloads, the way we have had to address that is dropping distribution customers in that area," said Dave Ball, AEP vice president of energy delivery operations.

In Merion Village, many stepped up to help others, residents said.

Members of Heritage Christian Church in Westerville walked down Parsons Avenue, handing out freeze pops and cold, bottled water. They stopped to speak to people fanning themselves outside, as they pulled a cooler of ice.

Others with electricity offered what they could to those without.

“We have a neighbor across the street from us who lost her power. She's on insulin, her insulin has to stay refrigerated,” said Beth Romonosky on East Jenkins Avenue. “Fortunately, we have a couple of neighbors in our in our ‘hood’ that have city power. And so, they were kind enough to take her insulin, otherwise she would have lost $800.”

John Blockinger of Worthington, who was in the neighborhood to babysit his grandson at his daughter’s house, said the folks baking on their porches have been livid in the heat.

“One lady said, ‘I survived, you know, two strokes and a bad fall. And now AEP is going try to kill me.’ That was the quote of the day, I think,” he said.

Blockinger said his daughter has power, so she ran extension cords to nearby neighbors without power, so they could at least run fans.

Temperatures soared above 90 degrees again on Wednesday, and didn’t drop much overnight Tuesday.

Without any air conditioning, Romonosky said her home was unbearable.

“We slept on our porch because our house is so hot,” she said.

Without power, there’s no internet access, Romonsky said. They’ve been starting their vehicles to charge their phones. Her daughters weren’t able to work because their employer was closed due to the outage.

People working from home are out of luck, too. And perishable groceries? They’ve perished in the heat, she said.

“We've got several neighbors that were telling us they just went to the grocery store on Monday night. Now that food is ruined,” she said.

Romonosky said she understands that outages occur sometimes, but believes AEP should have handled it differently. And she wants to know what the utility company will do to make it up to those affected.

“Is AEP going to reimburse them for (the loss of groceries or medicine)? You know, what kind of compensation are we going to get?” she asked.

She said AEP could have warned customers.

Blockinger agrees.

“Well, I'm not real happy about the way they handled that. I mean, if they knew they had a problem on the grid, I think they should have given people notice because, if they knew they had a problem on the grid, I think they should have given people notice. If people are ill, they need electrical appliances, sleep apnea machines, insulin's got to be refrigerated. There's a lot of things you could plan on -- stay at a hotel or something like that -- in preparation,” he said.

Romonosky said the company should alternate where the power losses are so that certain households don’t have to shoulder the entire burden.

During a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Jon Williams, AEP managing director of customer experience and distribution technology, said the company had to react quickly to save the rest of the grid.

"We from an emergency standpoint, we're doing this to protect the integrity of the entire grid. And it's really critical that we took this action to prevent broader scale outages,” he said.

He said there wasn’t time to warn customers.

“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 that other transmission lines that are overloading they had to be brought down and it's an automatic grid protection,” Williams said.

Romonosky suspects poorer neighborhoods were forced to shoulder the burden.

Williams disputes that. He said the outages were based on which transmission lines were overloading.

"There's no tie whatsoever to customers and their type or demographics or anything like that. It's a geographical transmission distribution system that causes it in a very specific area," he said.

Columbus Recreation and Parks on Tuesday opened cooling centers at five community centers through Thursday to provide residents shelter from the extreme heat.

The cooling centers are located at the following community centers:

  • Barnett Community Center
  • Beatty Community Center
  • Douglas Community Center
  • Glenwood Community Center
  • Marion Franklin Community Center
Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. Fox joined the WOSU newsroom from the Tribune Chronicle/Vindicator in the Youngstown area, where she’d been a reporter since 2014. Contact Renee at renee.fox@wosu.org.