Storms, trees keep EES on defensive

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com
Thunderstorms can be an electrical lineman's worst nightmare.
While bracing for the bad weather that can leave residents in the dark, the Elizabethton Electric System is also dealing with the dense tree growth that can play havoc with electrical lines.
"The tree growth has been phenomenal this year," said Phil Isaacs, general manager of the Elizabethton Electric System. "The trees are so top heavy a lot of times they are affecting the lines."
Above-average rainfall has boosted foliage growth causing tree foliage to sweep around electricity transmission lines.
The National Weather Service reports rainfall totals are nine inches above normal in the Tri-Cities region. Tuesday's storm felled several trees across the county and frequently cause major problems with power lines.
"A lot of people don't realize as the tree growth occurs, our line losses also increase," Isaacs said. "If you see a tree with a brown spot, that is where it has been burned by electricity. That is lost energy that didn't get sold."
He said the system had several power outages after Tuesday night's storm including several downed trees. Isaacs said the largest outages occurred in Hampton and near the Watauga Road area. He said smaller outages were reported in the areas of Dennis Cove and Stout Hollow.
EES crews also averted a potentially disastrous situation at the Hampton Bait Shop during the storm. Wind bent a telephone pole near the store during Tuesday's storm. The pole's live wires sent a shower of sparks onto the parking lot and precariously close to the store's gasoline pumps.
"The wind started coming through and the lights went out," said Kim Parlier, a clerk working at the shop when the storm hit. "The pole came over and sparks started hitting the roof. It was scary."
The pole also held a transformer that was left dangling from the pole by two wires. Parlier said 911 operators told her to get out of the store after she called to report the electrical lines near the gasoline tank. "I got to see a fireworks show that I didn't want to see," said Parlier.
The line stretched only a few feet off the ground while line crews worked to replace the pole and transformer. The downed lines kicked a breaker at the Hampton substation knocking out power to roughly 1,500 Hampton residents, Isaacs said.
Isaacs said the proposed EES budget included an additional $150,000 to fund tree-trimming costs this year. He said he plans to present the utility's 2004 fiscal year budget to the EES board of directors at the July meeting scheduled Tuesday.
EES presently contracts with a professional tree-trimming company to clear foliage from electrical lines. Isaacs said tree trimming crews had helped utility line workers last winter when severe ice storms hit North Carolina.
"There was a month in the dead of winter we didn't get our trees trimmed because we were trying to help some of the neighboring utilities," Isaacs said. "We are going to have to rethink how we release crews on these outages."