As summer approaches, ComEd quickly resolves south Evanston outage

Sammy Caiola

Commonwealth Edison quickly restored power last week after multiple outages affected about 1,800 Evanston residents.

As summer approaches, the largest energy company in Illinois hopes to avoid a repeat of last year, when thousands of Evanston residents went without power for days.

The outage affected residents across south Evanston and north Chicago, ComEd spokesman Tony Hernandez said.

A tree fell on an electrical wire and caused the first outage at 5:20 p.m., according to a report that ComEd filed after the incident. A ComEd crew was able to get to the site and restore power after about an hour, but a fuse blew at 7 p.m. causing a second outage, Hernandez said. Power was restored again later that evening.

The outage occurred within the boundaries of Brummel Street, Hartrey Avenue, North Paulina Street and Devon Avenue, according to the report.

David Stoneback, the city’s utilities director, received an email from ComEd informing him there were 856 potentially affected customers in Evanston and 840 in Chicago.

Since the week-long outage that hit Evanston last summer, blackouts have grown less frequent and ComEd’s reaction time has improved, Stoneback said. Aside from scheduled outages for preventative maintenance, last week’s incident was one of three outages in Evanston since January, Stoneback said. He said he did not receive any calls or complaints from residents during this outage.

The swift restoration may be due to positive communication between ComEd and Evanston officials, Stoneback said.

“We get ComEd to visit Evanston more frequently, and we discuss issues that we have and try to get them to do more improvements in distribution,” he said. “Generally, the reaction time is fairly good.”

But even a two-hour outage can be a big problem for some customers, like Pat Fowler, general manager of Candlelite, 7452 N. Western Ave., a Rogers Park sports bar that lost power from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday. The outage, which Fowler referred to as an “operational nightmare,” caused a number of problems at the restaurant, from the lack of televised sports games to the need for additional staff.

“That wasn’t a reasonable amount of time,” he said. “The frustration is that ComEd won’t tell you exactly what’s going on. Initially the estimated time was 6:30 p.m., which is what they were planning on. That would be great if that were really the case.”

City spokesman Eric Palmer said this was a standard outage that did not affect a huge number of people. He said it will not change Evanston’s “good working relationship” with ComEd.

“Just like with any power company, we’re going to experience power outages here, whether it’s due to maintenance or an infrastructure they might have,” Palmer said. “We’re susceptible to power outages, like any city in Illinois.”

ComEd may reduce future power failure with the installation of smart meters, a new technology that could potentially stop an outage on its own. Currently, Stoneback said, if a branch falls on a wire, it shuts down electricity until a crew can manually re-engage it. If that wire were equipped with a smart meter, there would only be a 30-second blackout until the device would try to re-engage the wire on its own. If the branch had fallen to the ground by that point, power could most likely be restored, Stoneback said.

“I expect their reliability will improve over the next several years with this equipment,” Stoneback said.

In the event of a power outage, ComEd customers should call the command center in Joliet, Ill., to notify the staff there. A crew will be dispatched to the site to try to resolve the problem. When power is restored, ComEd writes up a report. ComEd can send the local municipality some details about the outage but cannot send over the official report, Hernandez said.

“Our crews worked around the clock to make sure everyone got power back,” he said. “They worked as quickly and as safely as possible to get everybody back online.”

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