Does ComEd Dream Of Electric Sheep?


Do you remember all the way back to last August?  When we got one of those 100 year rains we seem to get about every other year?  And a good-sized portion of Park Ridge lost electrical power for as much as four days?

Maybe you were lucky enough to secure one of the last portable gasoline-operated generators.  Or maybe you weren’t – and settled for a couple of oversized coolers and a dozen bags of ice to try and salvage the food in your refrigerator.  Maybe you even got to the point of enjoying reading your newspaper by candlelight or flashlight.

About a month after the power was finally restored, Mayor Frimark made a big show of bringing in a ComEd team to a special City Council session to look very stern and assure us that ComEd would look into the situation.  And then they came back again in December to put the blame on the weather and damaged trees [pdf] .

Apparently ComEd thinks its Park Ridge customers are a bunch of sheep, able to be led anywhere and fleeced at ComEd’s leisure for its convenience.  Unfortunately, our Park Ridge City government – by accepting a couple of dog-and-pony shows instead of any commitments to real solutions – has given them little reason to think otherwise.

If we’re to believe ComEd’s “reliability manager” and his trusty power-point presentation [pdf] – and just how gullible does one have to be to do that, given ComEd’s record? – Park Ridge experienced a total of 268 power interruptions in 2007, of which 158 were caused by “miscellaneous equipment malfunctions, fallen trees and branches, and weather — primarily lightning and wind.”

First of all, we seriously question the number “268” when it comes to “power interruptions” in all of Park Ridge during all of 2007.  We know people in the First and Fifth Wards who could account for most of those in just their own blocks.  So the number 269 already has us looking askance at ComEd’s explanations.

Obviously there’s not much that can be done about the weather, but ComEd can do something about “miscellaneous equipment malfunctions.”  Has it?  And if so, what exactly has it done?  Has any of that “degraded equipment” been inspected and evaluated?  Have those 34kV lines been “thermo scanned”?  Since most of the tasks identified in ComEd’s power-point presentation are scheduled for Q1 and Q2 of 2008, has anyone at City Hall been put in charge of following up with ComEd on a regular (weekly?) basis to make sure that stuff is actually getting done?

Something can also be done about the effect of trees: Either cut them back far enough away from all the power lines so that falling limbs or even falling trees are less likely to knock the lines down, or bury the lines underground and eliminate the tree (and perhaps also the lightning) problem altogether.  Is anybody at City Hall looking seriously into both of those ideas?

And if ComEd says burying power lines isn’t feasible, is anybody at City Hall going to make sure we get a credible chapter and verse from ComEd on why not?  Because it sure seems like getting the wires buried is the most effective solution to most of these problems – which might explain why all those new subdivisions have their power lines underground.

Ironically, today’s Park Ridge Journal reports that ComEd has come up with a “seven-point plan” that reportedly has been embraced by the Northwest Municipal Conference (“NWMC”), an agency that represents 50 area municipalities (“Local Officials, ComEd Plan Faster Response Times,” Jan. 16).  That “seven-point plan” will:

[P]rovide quicker communications to area communities outlining severity of storms; improve the quality of information given to communities; provide better “boots on the ground” personnel to support municipalities; improve computer services; review of ComEd facilities with municipal leaders; work to improve customer education; and include related material in municipal newsletters.

Notice something missing?  Not one word about anything that would actually improve the reliability of ComEd’s power delivery system.  Just a lot of after-the-outage communications/public relations mumbo jumbo (“Hello, this is ComEd, the power company that cares.  If you are experiencing a power outage, rest assured that we are aware of it and are already mobilizing ‘boots on the ground’ to restore your electricity before all the food in your freezer spoils.  Thanks for calling ComEd, the power company that cares.  And remember to keep that freezer door closed.”), along with a little bit of after-the-outage remediation (“boots on the ground”).

Perhaps a seven-point puff of warm smoke up the skirts of NWMC president (and Des Plaines mayor) Tony Arredia and NWMC’s executive director Mark Fowler are enough to make them giggle, but it doesn’t do much for us.  And we suspect it doesn’t do much for all those Park Ridge residents who endure what sometimes seems like Third-World power dependability.

So here’s a suggestion for some real action, but it requires leadership from Mayor Frimark:  Convene a “summit” of Democratic State Sen. Dan Kotowski, a fellow Park Ridge resident; State Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, one of Frimark’s fellow Maine Twp. Republicans; and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who Frimark traveled all the way to Washington D.C. to cozy up to back in October.  Invite an actual ComEd executive with decision-making power, not more ComEd public relations and “reliability” twerps.

Then get a solid commitment from ComEd that it’s going to focus on PREVENTING outages rather than simply telling us how screwed we are (but how much ComEd loves us) after an outage occurs; or trucking in “boots on the ground” from Tennessee or New Jersey a couple of days after the power goes out.

Can you do that, Mr. Mayor?  Will you do that, Mr. Mayor?

If you can and will, we bet ComEd will even let you cut a ribbon when the first power line is buried.  If you can’t or won’t, just let us know so that we can start shopping for generators or ice chests.

5 comments so far

Love the idea of a “summit.” Chances of it happening – 1%. Why? Because it’s too much work for Frimark, Schakowsky doesn’t care, and Kotowski and Mulligan don’t think they can do anything about ComEd but don’t want people to KNOW that they can’t. The 1% is only because of the lure a ribbon-cutting is to Frimark.

Excellent post Pub-dogs!
Bury those lines! Bury those lines!

At least 9 of the 24 houses on my block have portable generators, and 2 of the others are planning on installing permanent natural gas-powered generators. I grew up in the south suburbs and have lived in the City of Chicago and in two other midwestern states and I have NEVER live anywhere with such undependable electric power. What an unfunny joke!

I don’t know if burying the lines is the answer, but it makes sense when so many of the outages are supposedly caused by wind, trees and lightning. I have no idea what it might cost and how it would be paid for, but until somebody asks and ComEd tells, it’s potential as an option is unknown.

Park Ridge belongs to the NWMC, right?  Whether it does or not, what’s the point of having an NWMC if the best it can do is what it did with ComEd?

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