MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
After Hurricane Sandy raked the northeast, New Jersey had more than 2.5 million customers without power. That's more than any other state. The company Jersey Central Power & Light had a tall order: restore power to 1.1 million of them. Nearly all of its customer were affected by the storm. The company had worked its outage tally back down to about 150,000 customers when the nor'easter hit and caused nearly as many new outages.
Ron Morano is chief spokesman for Jersey Central Power & Light.
RON MORANO: The damage we saw from this storm just literally ripped our system apart. And it did considerable damage to the entire state of New Jersey and the region as well. And as a result of that, we had to rebuild the backbone of the system, which is the transmission system that feeds the substations, which in turn feed the circuits, which send the power out to the streets to serve our customers.
BLOCK: What does that mean, to rebuild the backbone of the transmission system?
MORANO: We had to repair. First of all, you had to assess the damage. We had to fly with helicopters over to see where the damage was and then worked to get crews into the areas.
For your listeners who don't know, transmission lines hang on lattice towers, usually several hundred feet above the air, you need to get into remote areas to work on them. Sometimes you need to put five or six trucks on a rural street to get out to a pathway that leads to this transmission highway. And what you do is you repair the power path. Next, you feed it along the lines that go to the substations.
We have a subtransmission system, as it's called, which is lower voltages that feed the substations, and they feed the circuits which are the pathways through the streets that go out to feed the neighborhoods. We have approximately 1,200 circuits; 1,100 of those circuits were damaged in the hurricane.
BLOCK: Now, at the same time, this was not a freak storm. You knew this was coming. Did you have a disaster plan? Did you have systems in place to get people back online quickly?
MORANO: We had plans in place. We moved crews into New Jersey. We had support crews from our sister companies and First Energy, as well as contractor crews in place ready to respond the minute the storm was through the area and it was safe to go out and to start to restore customers to service.
And let's be clear on something here. This was a natural disaster that hit the state of New Jersey and this region. This is not only about Jersey Central Power and Light. It's about mass destruction. And we've worked with local emergency management officials. We're working with state and federal authorities. We've worked with local National Guard to clean up forestry issues. So we've taken advantage of the available resources and put them to work.
BLOCK: Let me ask you this. If you have more crews, would this be going faster?
MORANO: We have more crews in New Jersey than we've ever had. There are 1,600 additional linemen arriving today. They're joining the linemen that are already here. There are about 6,600 line workers here. There are nearly 14,000 employees and outside contractors who are concentrated on this restoration effort.
BLOCK: I'm sure you've heard the criticism coming in that Jersey Central Power and Light has given out erroneous data, has not been great on the communications front. Let me read you a quote from the mayor of Washington Township, Ken Short. He says he's totally fed up by your company and what he calls "their lies and their lack of service. All they do is supply power, and they can't even do that right."
What would you say to Mayor Short?
MORANO: Well, I'm not going to respond to Mayor Short directly. I'm going to respond to the overall concept here. As you work to provide information, when you're dealing with a restoration of this type - by the way, I should tell you, you know, 93 percent of the customers affected have been restored.
So, as you're working and you get down into these last pockets of customers, and you're working your way out from the bigger projects to the smaller projects, it is hard to provide that granular data in exact format. We do our best to try to give data. We understand that some of the mayors are disappointed, and we've heard that feedback. We have a daily conference call to take their questions and then respond to them.
But as you get down into that level, there may be projects where you need to put, you know, a multitude of crews to set a number of poles to serve eight to 12 customers. So providing that exact data when you get down to that stage proves to be difficult.
BLOCK: Is the main problem right now simply power lines that are down, that have to be restored?
MORANO: It - you know, let me give you a statistic. We have removed 45,000 trees as part of this cleanup. In many cases, we have to remove, you know, two trees before we get to the tree that's impacting our facilities. So tree removal is a part of it. Again, the crews are working their way through the neighborhoods and doing the repairs that need to be done locally.
BLOCK: Ron Morano is chief spokesman for Jersey Central Power & Light. Thanks so much.
MORANO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.