The Edison Electric Institute today honored Dominion Virginia Power with the association's "Emergency Recovery Award" for outstanding power restoration efforts in the wake of a major hurricane in August 2011.

The award is presented annually to U.S. and foreign-based member companies that faced untoward circumstances caused by extraordinary events and put forth an outstanding effort to restore service to the public. Winners were chosen by a panel of judges following an international nomination process, and the awards were presented today during EEI's March CEO meetings.

Presenting the award to Dominion Virginia Power, EEI President Tom Kuhn said: "This company really was put to the test last year, launching a major hurricane recovery effort just four days after being hit by an earthquake that lead to the safe shutdown of two nuclear reactors. The company set aggressive electricity restoration goals following Hurricane Irene and met them. It is a real pleasure to present Dominion Virginia Power with this award."

"We are honored to receive this recognition for the phenomenal effort of our people on the front lines and behind the scenes of the restoration," said Paul D. Koonce, Dominion Virginia Power chief executive officer. "Our planning and preparations paid off, as did the hard work and determination of everyone involved in the restoration work."

On Saturday, Aug. 27, Hurricane Irene made landfall at Cape Lookout, N.C.. Tracking northward across Dominion's northeast North Carolina territory into Tidewater and Central Virginia, Irene's massive wind field – which had the strength of a Category 3 storm – caused significant damage in coastal areas and in Central Virginia. Areas of catastrophic damage formed an arc from Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, to Richmond, Virginia, to the Northern Neck. Central Virginia, with its dense and higher tree canopy, saw pockets of damage similar to 2003's Hurricane Isabel.

Hurricane Irene left 1.2 million customers without electricity and touched off the second-largest recovery and restoration effort in Dominion's 100-year history. Twenty-eight transmission lines were affected as were 330 critical customers, including 911 centers, hospitals and co-op delivery points. More than 7,000 Dominion employees, retirees, and contractors, and out-of-state utility and tree crews – more than 1,300 bucket trucks – worked around the clock for eight days to respond to customers at 35,000 work locations.

Irene uprooted and toppled hundreds, perhaps thousands, of large trees, tearing down multiple spans of wire and equipment. Downed trees and lines, debris on roads, and flooding complicated restoration efforts and made travel difficult in many areas. In the areas with the most significant damage, crews had to cut pathways into neighborhoods to restore power.

Customer and employee safety was paramount throughout the event, and Dominion Virginia Power used a multi-communication channel approach to make sure that customers – whose nerves were already rattled by an earthquake just a few days before Irene arrived– had timely information regarding safety and the progress of restoration.

After completing an initial damage assessment on Monday, Aug. 29, the company set two aggressive restoration targets: 75 percent of customers restored by Wednesday night, and 90-95 percent by Friday night. Both targets were successfully met. By late Monday, Sept. 5Labor Day – Dominion Virginia Power had returned service to all 1.2 million customers affected by Hurricane Irene.

Just four days earlier, an earthquake centered in Mineral, Virginia, shook the East Coast. Registering 5.8 on the Richter scale, the temblor caused the automatic shutdown of two nuclear reactors at Dominion's North Anna plant and garnered worldwide media attention. The two units underwent multiple inspections by Dominion and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and were returned to service in November. The company's transmission and distribution grid, however, came through the August quake unscathed.

See T&D TV for related videos....