It has been more than 30 years since Nebraska Public Power District has incurred damage from a winter storm of this magnitude.
At least 28 counties throughout a wide geographic area in central and northeast Nebraska suffered damage leading to a disruption of electrical service this past week. The massive storm affected NPPD’s electric transmission infrastructure running from Lexington north to Broken Bow, extending northeast through Neligh and Norfolk, south through Aurora, and down to the Kansas border.
Favorable weather conditions, additional manpower provided by contract workers and other utilities from Nebraska and other states, helped out yesterday. However, more work and the sharing of resources, materials and multiple, independent vendors is what will make the difference in piecing the systems back together.
“We have a monumental task in front of us, but we are doing everything humanly possible to return service to those still without power as soon as possible,” said Ron Asche, president and CEO.
NPPD’s electric system comprises infrastructure that carries electricity at various voltage levels. NPPD's high-voltage transmission system comprises 4240 miles of lines with voltage levels ranging from 345 kV to 115 kV, and 215 transmission substations.
More than 600 miles of high-voltage power lines remain out of service tonight due to wires down, structures down, and damaged conductor. Of this total, about 130 miles of these lines were on the ground or severely damaged.
Presently, 28 high-voltage lines are out of service. Thousands of poles, hundreds of transformers, and close to 100 substations in NPPD’s service area were affected by the storm. NPPD is continuing to compile its assessment of system damage from a second day of aerial flyovers. This information will be used to help the utility firm up its long-term restoration strategy.
Governor Heineman met with utility and Nebraska Emergency Management Agency representatives yesterday to discuss the winter disaster and view the storm’s damage.
“The reality is that the damage from this storm is far more massive than any of the early estimates predicted,” he said in a release following yesterday’s press conference.
He pledged state resources to assist in recovery efforts required as a result of the winter storm. The utilities are working with NEMA to get generators to communities still without power. It is estimated that approximately 35 communities remain without service.
“Nebraska’s public power utilities are working together to prioritize their response efforts and available resources to safely and efficiently return power to customers,” said Asche. “This isn’t about one utility or one customer. This is about Nebraskans working for Nebraskans.”
Tomorrow, NPPD will focus on stabilizing the system in and around Kearney. The plan is to return a second transmission line to service in order to support the community’s load requirements. While NPPD has not had to implement any rolling blackouts to levelize the load currently supported by one transmission line, customers are being notified that the possibility of using this option still exists.
“We are doing what we can to avoid having to initiate a rolling blackout, and we have been successful thus far, in part, due to the conservation efforts of our customers in the Kearney and Gibbon communities,” said Asche. “Their support, patience, and understanding over these recent days is greatly appreciated. That line will continue to be a top priority again tomorrow.”
NPPD is also concentrating its transmission restoration efforts in the Holdrege, Hildreth, and Wilcox areas which were among the hardest hit. Crews and hired contractors will also be working in the Lexington, Riverdale, Axtell, Albion, and North Loup areas. More than a dozen public power districts and municipalities in central Nebraska are combining their own resources with the mutual aid provided by a plethora of other utilities and companies that support the power industry. Initial estimates indicate it will take weeks, or even months, to completely rebuild the electrical systems.
“Every community and rural area is important,” said Asche. “If there is any good to this situation at all, it is that the public power industry and the numerous utilities, contractors, and vendors who have offered their assistance will not waiver in their dedication to the response efforts ahead.”