ComEd pledges better communication

April 11, 2012 4:28:12 PM PDT
ComEd promised to do a better job communicating with suburban mayors and residents in the event of significant power outages.

Last summer, the utility was widely criticized for taking days to get the power back on after a series of storms.

ComEd promised its smart grid plan would lead to fewer and shorter outages.

That is still ten years away from being fully implemented and in the meantime, they know spring and summer storms are coming and the public wasn't happy with its response last year.

Steve Geffen says he was in the dark, literally and figuratively, for days at a time last summer. And as a result his family's popular Highland Park bagel deli lost thousands of dollars.

"The lack of communication," Geffen said. "We didn't get any answers. You'd call and nobody would be there to answer and they'd give you the same recorded message. They didn't have any time frame."

The complaint was the same across countless suburbs.

Now, Com Ed says it hopes to improve communication.

During storms where 20 percent of customers in a specific area are without power for more than three hours the utility will open what's it's calling a Joint Operations Center, or JOC, in that area.

"The municipalities provide us priorities and by the JOC protocol we owe them regular, periodic status updates," said ComEd vice president Michael McMahan.

"We believe it's not only going to improve communication but it will allow for the restoration process in municipalities to go faster," Wilmette Mayor Chris Canning said.

Highland Park mayor Nancy Rotering isn't optimistic.

ABC7 News talked to Rotering along busy Route 41 where last summer's lack of electricity meant police had to direct highway traffic for days at a time.

"Last summer we were not able to get good information," she said. "We were constantly told crews are on their way. We had experiences where we saw the same probably 16 trucks sitting in a parking lot waiting for directions all day while people suffered another day without electricity."

Fueling some of the mistrust between suburban mayors and ComEd is a filing with the Illinois Commerce Commission.

They say it shows how the utility splits hairs when it comes to responsibility. For example, despite last summer's widespread outages, ComEd argues it shouldn't have to reimburse customers because "multiple" storms caused "multiple" power outages.