MLGW CEO reveals priorities to avoid major power outages in the future

MLGW CEO reveals priorities to avoid major power outages in the future
Updated: Jul. 6, 2018 at 6:34 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - For the last two weeks, MLGW has been dealing with storm after storm.

Each one packed a bigger punch than the last, leaving thousands of customers in the dark time and time again.

Thursday night's storm left one Memphis neighborhood with quite a mess.

A portion of South Greer is one of the many hard-hit areas. The winds were so strong that they uprooted a large tree, pulled up a sidewalk, and pulled down utility poles.

"I mean they've got a mess down there and figure they've got to cut it up and then they got to restore power on both sides," said homeowner Allen Bowers.

Homes on South Greer between Poplar and Central avenues went dark. Neighbors remember hearing a crack, snap, then a spark.

"Seems like I remember hearing a popping sound, but I didn't get up or anything," Bowers said.

Thursday night into Friday's power outage marked the fifth significant outage, impacting thousands across the Mid-south in just the last two weeks as a result of strong storms.

"I know it's frustrating and I said to our customers, I say that we we regret any inconvenience, and I do apologize to the extent that any of these outages were longer than they should have been based on anything we did or didn't do," said MLGW President and CEO J.T. Young.

On Friday, WMC5 sat down with Young, who is in his fourth month at MGLW, Young is in the middle of budget season, evaluating the needs for upgrade and improvements.

"Our biggest focus right now on that budget is really looking at our infrastructure," Young said.

While some say the solution to fixing the outage problem is moving utilities underground, former MLGW President Jerry Collins estimated that would cost billions of dollars over several years.

Young's priority is finding a long-term solution to harden the MLGW system and upgrade infrastructure.

Right now, it's estimated that roughly 80 percent of the infrastructure, which includes things like substations, power lines, and transformers, is 40 years or older.

Young said it's a delicate balancing act weighing out the need for more money to improve its system with the fact some customers already struggle to pay their bills.

"I am not inclined to ask for anything we don't need," Young said.

In February, city council members approved a 2-percent electric rate increase for MLGW customers that began Sunday.

It came after months of debate and concerns from city leaders about the age of the electric infrastructure.

Now in the middle of preparing the next budget to present to city council, Young said it may not be the only increase we see to make the needed infrastructure upgrades.

"I don't want to close any doors, I do believe though that it's my responsibility to make sure that I work with a fine tooth comb over the budget to make sure that we are asking for the dollars that we really need," Young said.

MLGW said the recent rate increase was the first increase in 14 years.

Young said the utility company's rate is one of the lowest in the country. However, repeated mass power outages after strong storms have customers and even city officials calling for more to be done.

He said one of the biggest culprits for outages are trees. MLGW currently allocates $20 million to tree trimming and maintenance.

"We've been trying to keep up with that," Young said. "It's been difficult lately to keep up with a tree trimming cycle that we need to."

As Young looks toward the future and hardening the system for resilience after a storm, his priority is to end short-term Band-Aid-like fixes and instead shifting the focus to long-term solutions.

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