MLGW addresses issues from Dec. storm, plans for improvements

Published: Jan. 4, 2023 at 6:21 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Rolling blackouts, water outages, and a boil water advisory for thousands of Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) customers were the issues many faced last week following the dangerous blast of winter weather.

During Wednesday’s MLGW Board of Commissioners meeting, President and CEO Doug McGowen spoke on the challenges and about what they’re doing to improve.

McGowen says more than 260,000 customers experienced an outage of some duration from the start of the winter weather event on Dec 23.

MLGW was required to initiate rolling blackouts for the first time in its 89-year history under orders from the Tennesse Valley Authority (TVA).

“Executing a rolling blackout plan would have been challenging [even] in the most ideal conditions, with plenty of warning, but that was not the case as we went through this a week ago,” McGowen said.

McGowen now says they’re working to ensure better communication between them and the TVA.

“From an infrastructure perspective, we’re going to take a look at our way-forward plan, which is our five-year infrastructure investment plan,” McGowen said. “Sometimes, these events will highlight a gap in your plan that you didn’t know existed.”

McGowen says there were two main issues the utility faced during the arctic blast.

First, the company had to implement more rolling blackouts than expected, from 5% to 10%.

Second, when it was time to restore power, McGowen says 30% of the time, substation circuit breakers did not operate properly, forcing crews to identify which circuit breakers didn’t operate and then manually reset them.

But when comparing to previous years, McGowen says, investment changes made so far did make a difference.

“We were able to keep pressure at more houses and avoid losing water at more houses than we did in 2021. You won’t feel that on a day-to-day basis... and if it was your water that was out, that does little to assuage your concerns, except that those continued investments we’re making will eventually decrease the number of people impacted by that cold weather,” he said.

He also expressed gratitude towards the crews who worked nonstop to restore power and water.

“They do it for the right reasons,” he said. “They’re in it to serve their community. There’s really not enough compensation you can give to somebody to get out in single-digit temperatures for a 16-hour shift, unless their heart is in the work, unless their heart is in the community and trying to make it better.”

He went on to say that every cent of overtime is going to be worth it “if we can get one more customer on more quickly or restore water to somebody more quickly.”

McGowen tells Action News 5 that the utility has already started having internal meetings and conversations to work out some of the issues, and there is a plan to work with TVA should another major weather event happen.

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