Friday, August 21, 2009

Entergy at odds with consumers, again

Delta Residents Express Frustration With Entergy’s Repair Policies
Pat Maglothlin said that one Entergy outage cost him $100,000.By Sheila Prescott
"Forty years ago we put a man on the moon, and if we can put a man on the moon we ought to be able to figure out why Parkdale and Wilmot keeps losing power every time it thunders," Senator Jimmy Jeffress told representatives of Entergy and interested citizens during a meeting in Parkdale last week.
"These people pay the same rates as they pay every where else in the state of Arkansas and they ought to be able to depend on their power. If Entergy can't figure out what the problem is then I think they ought to say so and we'll see if we can't find somebody else who could," the state senator said.
The purpose of the meeting, held in the conference room at Bayou Grain in Parkdale, was to voice concerns about two recent storm outages and other issues, including the time that repairs required. Entergy customers and concerned citizens discussed outages that affected Wilmot and Parkdale on June 30, July 1 and July 16 and other issues to Entergy representatives on Tuesday, Aug. 4. In addition to the storm outages, those present complained about Entergy's automated outage reporting system, blinking lights and policies.
"Our number one priority for our employees; as well as our customers and the environment is safety," Diane Tatum, Regional Customer Service Manager with Entergy, said to a standing room only crowd. "We will not compromise that, and we do not take shortcuts."
Tatum explained Entergy's procedure during an outage and summarized the two recent storms. The first storm, she said was on June 30 with outages continuing in to July 1. Those outages, she said, were widespread and affected Wilmot, Parkdale, Lake Village, Dermott, McGehee and Dumas. Crews were called in from Crossett, El Dorado and Warren to assist in restoration, said Tatum, who added that travel time and obtaining equipment from other areas further delayed restoration time. Tatum said electricity was fully restored 15 hours and 45 minutes following the first outage report. The second storm, Tatum said occurred on July 16 and resulted in a power failure lasting several hours.
Although Tatum stated that Entergy reflected 491 customers without power during one of the storms, Ron Moore, General Manager of Ashley-Chicot Electric Cooperative, said one of the outages was a breaker that provides electricity to 400 Ashley-Chicot Electric customers. "You didn't have 491, you had 891," said Moore.
Diane Tatum, Entergy Regional Customer Service Manager for South Arkansas, comments to customers and concerned citizens during a public meeting held at Bayou Grain in Parkdale on Tuesday, Aug. 4.
Entergy has policies in place to restore power after a storm, according to Tatum. The first step, she said, is to send out scouts to assess damage to equipment and facilities to determine corrective actions. Large transmission lines are restored followed by substations that transport power to local areas. The next step, she said is to restore electricity to emergency services, life support facilities and communications networks and then to feeder lines that serve large numbers of customers and neighborhoods. The final restoration is individual service.
"This is one of the rules we operate in with respect to maintenance and responding to outage, ‘The customer experiencing a service outage that does not result in an emergency, the electric utility should make every reasonable effort to restore service not later than 24 hours after the outage is reported'," she said.
In regards to first outage, County Judge Emory Austin stated that he called and spoke to a "Jeremy" with Entergy and was told that downed power lines and poles had created the outages in the two cities. However, Austin said he was in the Delta when he placed the call after he failed to see an obvious cause. "Where were the poles broke and where was the downed wire?" asked Austin. "They weren't."
John Montgomery, Entergy Area Line Supervisor for Lake Village-McGehee, said that there were wire and poles down in the Dermott area. The person Austin spoke with, he said, may not have been aware of the distance between the two areas and repeated the last information he was given.
Montgomery further explained that before power could be restored, someone had to ride out the line and find the cause of the outage. In addition, he said, power failed in Dermott and Lake Village before it went out in Wilmot and Parkdale. "The point is the crews were already out working," he said.
John Montgomery, Entergy Area Line Supervisor for Lake Village/McGehee, shown right, explains the procedure of power restoration to Wilmot Mayor Archie Walker, shown left. Shown center is Audie Foret, Entergy Regional Operations Manager for South Arkansas.
Ron Miller with Bayou Grain stated those affected by the storm were misinformed as to when power would be restored. Miller said a number of businesses decided not to open based on Entergy's two day predicted outage time.
"We had already figured out that the only thing wrong in Parkdale, Ark., a tree or something was down and that was the only thing wrong in the whole world. We were sitting here making decisions," he said. "It is a communication problem and you need to evaluate how you are handling the structure of your people."
Montgomery said the estimated time was the predicted time it would take to restore power to the entire system. Damage to Dermott was substantial, he added.
"It was estimated that it would take two days to get Dermott back on, but they actually got them back on in one day, thank God, but that is where the estimate came from," said Montgomery.
In the district which begins at Grady and extends to the Louisiana line, Montgomery said there are five service men and 17,000 customers.
Doris Hammond noted that there are a lot of elderly in the Wilmot and Parkdale area and that it is difficult to report an outage through Entergy's system when electricity fails in the middle of the night.
"When we call it at night, this has always been a pet peeve of mine. I have a flashlight and I have learned to keep my account number there. Otherwise, I don't get to talk to anyone," said Hammond. "It helps a person when you're sitting up there sweating at 3 o'clock in the morning to hear a voice say, ‘I am so sorry,' and I worked with call centers so I know what I am talking about, but it so much more helpful instead of that repetitive thing, ‘Please, give your account number'."
Jackson Currie said he hates calling the Entergy 800 number and said he would prefer to speak to someone who knows the area and the cause of the outage instead of someone who is unfamiliar with the area.
"I know I should expect power to go out in some storms. It's not a problem for me that it takes time to fix, and certainly I would never want anyone to be harmed. Here's my problem, it goes out every storm. Here's why I don't think it's right because my friends from Little Rock tell me, ‘It never goes out up here'," said Currie, adding that maybe it is an exaggeration, but, "Meanwhile it goes out down here every time we have a storm and sometimes when we don't have a storm."
In response to Currie's comment Wayne Branton, a fish farmer in Wilmot, said, "I think Entergy would be well served if it would look at Ashley-Chicot [Electric Cooperative]'s system. We have a catfish farm, and I can guarantee you if at 3 o'clock in the morning if we called, we have the service men's cell phone numbers, and within two hours they are going to be on our farm," said Branton. "If it's an Entergy problem, we've got a big problem, but they can fix their problem. So you might be well served in looking at Ashley-Chicot. Look at their system, their emergency system and see how they can assist. They're a lot smaller than you all are, and we can pick up the phone and call the people and not 800 numbers, and that's one of the problems. I take my hat off to Ashley-Chicot, and maybe you ought to look at their system and their policies to see how they do it cause they do a heck of a good job."
Montgomery stated that Entergy has top notch equipment to provide service to its customers and does not know why Ashley-Chicot Electric Cooperative does not have similar issues. "I just don't know, Jerry [Moore, Ashley Chicot’s Operations Superintendent] and they may have a magic wand over there on Ashley-Chicot. I think they've just been 'explicit' lucky," he added.
In other service related issues, Miller said once after Montgomery finished a job at Bayou Grain and left, a transformer blew. Miller said he called Montgomery and was told to call the service center. However, he said, before he could hang up the phone reporting the problem, a construction driver passing by and watching someone load corn hit and snapped an electric pole. The line, he said posed a risk of landing on a metal building. When the service man arrived to change the transformer, Miller said he refused to repair or secure the downed power line stating that it was against Entergy's policy.
"Sometimes your system is skewed against safety because of the way you're trying to be more efficient," said Miller.
Montgomery stated that a service man has a bucket truck and cannot change a pole without proper equipment, "and so what happened when the service man got here and saw a broke pole all he could do...,"
However, before Montgomery completed his statement, Miller interrupted saying, "I disagree that he could have done nothing. One line down with the electricity useless, he could have pulled the other fuses or went back to the highway and pulled the fuses. It was an unsafe situation to have a broken pole over a bunch of metal bins. You should have killed me totally out at the highway and I think it's not him [the service man]. If you think I am fussing at him you're wrong. I think it's your system, not the [service] man," said Miller.
Audie Foret, Regional Operations Manager for South Arkansas, agreed with Miller stating that Entergy provides storm and restoration training to its employees based on the concept to isolate, protect and govern public safety and health as its top priority.
"It's a culture change; folks are used to us rewarding them and patting them on the back for getting it done. The guy who used to break the rules and bend the rules was rewarded, he was promoted, and now we're sending that same man home because we're telling him we don't want him to get hurt," Foret said. "The situation that you're referring to should not have occurred. I'm not going to say that's definitely attributed to a culture change with the individual but I can tell you as management with Entergy it's not the system we have constructed."
Foret said he will follow up on that situation with the individual involved in the incident at Bayou Grain and Chemical.
"We are going to have to get more information on that as far as with that individual and find out where the gaps are, but I will agree with you he should have isolated that and made sure your facility was safe for your fellows to be here. He shouldn't have left that with two phases hot," said Foret.
Pat Maglothin, an Entergy customer in Boydell, said one outage cost him $100,000 in catfish, and that according to Entergy's records, his ponds have been out 19 times in the past two years. During the $100,000 loss outage, he said, one of Entergy's scouts drove by a thrown switch three times but did not stop to reset it.
"I finally went down and found your service personnel. He told me he could not reset that switch because he had a call that there was more people out in Lake Village," said Maglothin, adding that each of his wells cost $2,000 a month in electricity. "You all are serving 100 percent government entities," he added.
Maglothin also complained about the difficulty he has had in obtaining information during an outage and making payments since the company closed the Lake Village facility. Entergy now utilizes the space as a warehouse. In response to Maglothin's complaint, Montgomery said, "Our intent is not to just serve warm bodies, we do have stipulations to get the lights, wells, irrigation accounts and all accounts are high priority. They don't come before hospitals, they don't come before police departments, fire departments, but do come before warm bodies. We know there is an investment by that customer, and we try or at least I try diligently if I know there is an irrigation account or a fish farm out. We give them high priority."
Office of Emergency Management Officer Jim Skender stated that communication is crucial and suggested working with Entergy to implement changes in their communication system. Skender said he works closely with emergency agencies throughout the county and has contact information for Ashley-Chicot Electric Cooperative and offered his assistance to Entergy representatives. Skender also suggested that instead of customers providing their account numbers to report outages that Entergy consider adjusting its systems to allow customers to give their physical address instead. Skender said Friday that he met with Judge Austin Wednesday to further discuss possible solutions.
As the meeting drew to a close, Foret stated that while not all suggestions were feasible that he planned to implement change to better serve customers in Wilmot and Parkdale and asked to return in six months to discuss those accomplishments.
Jeffress agreed that holding a second meeting to review those changes was a good idea. The senator asked Judge Austin to mark his calendar for Feb. 4, 2010 as the date for the second meeting with Entergy representatives.
A representative of the Arkansas Public Service Commission present at the meeting said he will be following progress and any corrective measures taken by Entergy

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