NPPD rebuilds from ice storm in record time

Friday, May 11, 2007

We're spoiled in this country. We admit it.

We flip a switch, and we expect the lights to go on.

We've heard about foreign countries where they have electricity only a few hours a day, if that. We can't imagine.

The New Year's ice storm was an abrupt encounter with reality for folks in Holdrege and Central Nebraska, but even they soon had emergency generators running or other temporary sources of power in place.

Within three weeks, things were more or less back to normal. We flipped the switch, and the lights went on.

Most of us don't think about the thought, time, money and effort that goes into making that happen.

Nebraska's public power utilities do that job for us.

At 4:31 p.m. Thursday, the Nebraka Public Power District flipped a switch that put into service the last of 37 transmission lines that went out of service as we were bringing in the new year.

Yes, it was more than five months after the storm, but it was six weeks ahead of the original reconstruction schedule. That was squeezing three years of traditional work into under four months, according to NPPD?President and CEO Ron Asche.

A look at some of the figures reveals just what an accomplishment that was.

At the height of the storm, NPPD and its public power utility wholesale customers lost service to more than 40,000 customers. The storm damaged 18 substations and 37 transmission line segments covering 1,053 miles. A total of 1,137 of NPPD's transmission line structures, as well as 301 miles of wire.

It took 200 to 300 contract workers, including helicopter crews, to complete the reconstruction effort.

And the cost of all this?

So far, NPPD has spent $123.7 million on restoration and reconstruction, with $74 million of that expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The rest will be financed through long-term debt and paid back over 20 to 25 years.

But rebuilding wasn't the only expense. While lines to the Gerald Gentleman Station south of Sutherland were broken, NPPD had to buy another $34 million worth of electricity to keep the lights on. There's no federal reimbursement for that, but NPPD used $22 million of cash on hand to pay for it, and will pass the remaining $12 million in cost onto customers through a Productionn Cost Adjustment charge.

And, NPPD has a stronger system following reconstruction. While they had the chance, crews replaced two-pole structures with five-pole "storm structures"?every six to eight miles. NPPD also replaced some pole structures with custom-made laminated poles designed to bend but not break. In addition, telecommunication lines that NPPD lost in several areas were buried.

Yes, we'll be feeling the pain of the New Year's ice storm for years in the form of higher electrictity costs. But in Nebraska, electricity is still a bargain, and, for the vast majority of the time, it's there at the flip of a switch.

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