The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Progress 2012

February 29, 2012

City, county utilities look toward ambitious year

After a severe weather year that saw local utility companies stretch resources more than previously imagined, utility department officials in Athens and Limestone County say they have recovered, for the most part.

Perhaps no utility was more hampered more in 2011 than the Athens Electric Department. The strain began with a harsh winter that brought snow and ice to the county, followed by violent tornadoes on April 27 and dangerous late-summer thunderstorms.

Gary Scroggins, general manager of Athens Utilities, said his department has recovered for the most part from the storms, but there is still work left to be done in neighborhoods that were hardest hit.

“There are some small subdivisions that haven’t been rebuilt yet, but once they start building again, we’ll go in and redo the lines,” he said.

Equally devastated was the Tennessee Valley Authority that had more than 350 transmission structures destroyed across North Alabama and left more than 640,000 without power.

All three units at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant went down on April 27 after main transmission lines to the plant went down in the storm. The reactors were placed in “cold shutdown” mode and relied on power from diesel generators for five days to ensure water temperature remained cool.

After employing 4,000 workers and $25 million on new wire and steel, TVA declared its electrical grid restored in mid-July.

Upcoming projects

Large projects being planned by Athens Utilities include the construction of two new substations to serve the new Carpenter Technology Corporation facility on U.S. 31 and another in East Limestone. The CTC substation will be built for an estimated $3.5 million, while Scroggins said the East Limestone substation would cost about $3 million.

“(East Limestone) has grown so much and the substation we have out there is getting close to capacity,” he said.

As a means of keeping customers in the electricity loop, the utilities department hired Amy Golden last fall as a customer relations manager. Scroggins said she’s been working with potential industries and residents and also spearheaded the department’s first newsletter, designed to keep customers in the loop about projects, programs and how money is being spent.

Scroggins wants to continue building on the customer service aspect and plans to approach the council about purchasing an outage system that would allow a customer to call a number and enter in outage information using their phone.

“It would answer a tremendous amount of calls at any one time so they’re not having to talk directly to a customer service person,” he said previously. “If we have 1,000 people calling at one time, we don’t have 1,000 people to answer the phones.”

Such systems aren’t inexpensive, and could cost as much as $50,000 for installation, hardware and software. He said systems usually require monthly charges that could range from $1,000 to $2,000.

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