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ComEd Grilled on Power Surge by Western Springs, Highlands Residents

Representatives from the electric company spoke at a jam-packed Western Springs Village Hall on Wednesday about the November surge that caused damage in many homes.

Representatives from electric company Commonwealth Edison went before Western Springs Village Hall on Wednesday night to answer residents’ questions about the November 27 power surge that many Western Springs and La Grange Highlands residents say caused significant damage to their homes and appliances.

The hall was overflowing, with many attendees forced to stand for lack of enough chairs. Western Springs Village President Bill Rodeghier, State Representative Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) and a representative for Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-3rd, also a Western Springs resident) were among them.

ComEd engineering manager Bill Fredrick told the crowd that the surge happened when a 12,000-volt line on Edgewood Drive in La Grange Highlands came down atop a 4,000-volt line. The 4,000-volt line experienced a power surge that affected homes in the Springdale neighborhood and surrounding area. (Other areas in La Grange, La Grange Highlands, Countryside and Western Springs experienced an outage but no surge.)

Fredrick said that the line was last inspected for damage using thermography technology on August 27, and inspected visually sometime in June, suggesting that some incident between the end of August and the night of the surge had caused the line to weaken.

“The only thing that I could surmise is that it either took a previous shot of lightning or something that caused a void in the upper line that just decided that day to give way,” Fredrick said.

He added that the surge was an extremely rare occurrence—one he’d only seen once before—and said that ComEd will be doing an additional scan of the guilty circuit on top of their regular preventative maintenance.

However, he said that, “like with a lightning strike,” there was nothing ComEd could do to protect homes in the event of a future surge. Attendees were advised to check their house grounding and/or install surge protection for their houses.

Springdale residents countered that they’d seen whole-house protectors blown out of the wall by the surge, rendering them useless. Several spoke of having their televisions, refrigerators and other appliances fried despite protection.

Others expressed frustration with the electrical situation in Springdale in general, saying that the area is prone to frequent brownouts in specific areas. They questioned the integrity of the older underground cables that power the neighborhood. Fredrick said that those cables are in good condition.

The ComEd representatives emphasized repeatedly that residents must call the company when they have an outage of any type—and not assume their neighbor has already called—because otherwise the company will have no record of it, at least until the delayed “smart grid” project is finished. A few residents said that they do call, and meet only with frustration. (“Some of us have been calling for 25 years,” one replied.)

ComEd also explained its claim process—a form is available here on the Western Springs website—and encouraged residents to submit their claims for all damages quickly and thoroughly. Claims are expected to be resolved within about a month, the reps said.

Rep. Durkin spoke to draw attention to a segment of the Illinois Public Utilities Act of 1997, which appeared to suggest that ComEd would only be liable for damages if more than 30,000 people were affected by an outage.

“Are [residents] going to get a return back from ComEd saying that there need to be claims by 30,000 people affected by this incident before [ComEd] makes any type of judgment?” Durkin asked. “We’re not going to qualify if we look at a plain reading of what the statute and your claims form says.”

The ComEd reps said they would need to examine the legal statues themselves, but regional director Kendall Hodge promised that the company would “use proper discretion” in reimbursement proceedings.

That proper discretion also includes claims being paid at the value of damaged items, not the value of a replacement, which left some unhappy residents saying it would amount to a sudden, forced expense that they might not be able to afford. 

Representatives asked residents just to submit their claims, and pledged that they would be evaluated fairly.

Jim Bowhay December 14, 2012 at 01:45 PM
This is the third transformer I've actually seen from our house blow in less than two years on the perimeter of the La Grange Country Club. ComEd's claim that their equipment is in tip top shape is laughable. It is always someone else's fault (usually they like to blame trees). Clearly, ComEd has not been taking care of the power grid on which we all depend. It is time for the Villages and other representatives to hold ComEd accountable, as a government-sanctioned monopoly, and get the eqiupment properly maintained.
Mouse December 14, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Glad to see the armchair electric distribution experts are here commenting again this morning. Maybe they should get a consulting gig with ComEd since they obviously know something nobody else does...how to guarantee that lightning does no damage, ever. Listen up, folks. ComEd is no saint when it comes to maintenance but this sort of incident is indeed rare. And to the person who stated "Springdale residents countered that they’d seen whole-house protectors blown out of the wall by the surge, rendering them useless", your "whole-house protector" is supposed to trip the main breaker, not blow "out of the wall", so maybe you need to find a qualified electrician to properly install the correct equipment next time instead of making it a DIY project.
Sandy Petrukovich December 14, 2012 at 07:21 PM
it was a 12,000 v on a 4,000 v line
Stephanie Holt December 14, 2012 at 08:01 PM
I'm guessing you don't live in the affected neighborhood, Mouse, so I don't believe you can creditably comment on the experiences of those who do. The intensity of the surge was beyond anything that most of us have seen before. Which means we experienced exploding light bulbs; smoking, charred UPS boxes, one destroyed appliance after another, and an impact strong enough to, yes, blow things right out of the wall. Seems to me you are the one playing armchair expert.
Roaming Gnome December 20, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Surge protectors are not designed to protect against sustained over voltages. Which is what the event was not a surge. A surge by definition is a momentary event. Not like when a high voltage line is dropped onto a lower voltage line for a continuous time frame. No surge protector is designed to protect against this event. It's like expecting the levies to hold during hurricane Katrina. I hope these people get compensation from the utility.

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