Crews from a couple of Oklahoma electric utilities are headed east to help with power restoration in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. sent a 60-person storm team to help Maryland’s Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. earlier this morning, said OG&E spokesman Brian Alford. OG&E also mobilized 69 contract lineman and 90 tree trimmers.
Public Service Co., a unit of Ohio-based American Electric Power, sent about 70 employees and contractors from Tulsa, McAlester and Lawton over the weekend to Wytheville, Va. They are expected to arrive this afternoon or evening and receive their assignments there, said Stan Whiteford, PSO’s spokesman.
Meanwhile, energy monitoring firm Genscape has opened up its proprietary system to the public during the storm for updates on electricity, power plants and refinery outages.
While Sandy has yet to come ashore, the effects of the storm are already being felt along the Mid-Atlantic and into New England. One estimate from engineers at Johns Hopkins University said up to 10 million people could lose power from the storm.
Crews from Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. are traveling to Louisiana today to help with power restoration in the wake of Hurricane Isaac.
Latest estimates from the storm put more than 500,000 people without power.
OG&E Electric Services said 71 employees will help Cleco Power. They will stage at Cleco’s headquarters in Pineville, La., and be dispatched to surrounding areas in need of help.
OG&E is a member of the Southeast Electric Exchange, which organizes mutual assistance teams from utilities across the south after storms.
“Our crews are always ready and willing to help others in a time of need during outages like this,” said Mike Mathews, OG&E’s vice president of power delivery operations, in a statement. “They’re working safely to get power back to the citizens of Louisiana, or wherever they’re needed, and they’ll continue until the job is done.”
In March, OG&E won the “Emergency Assistance Award” from the Edison Electric Institute for its efforts to restore service following several regional weather emergencies in 2011. The award recognizes utilities that help neighboring or regional utilities that have been disrupted by severe weather outages. Among the service restoration events OG&E helped with were severe thunderstorms, flooding and tornado damage in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Alabama.
Smart meters are spreading throughout the country as utility companies search for ways to cut cost and streamline operations.
But such promises from Centerpoint Energy did not sway a Houston woman.
Thelma Taormina got her gun when she was unable to prevent a Centerpoint worker from trying to install as smart meter at her home, according to Houston television station KENS5.
Taormina, 55, contends smart meters are an unnecessary violation of her privacy.
“Our constitution allows us not to have that kind of intrusion on our personal privacy,” she told the TV station. “They’ll be able to tell if you are running your computer, air conditioner, whatever it is.”
Texas regulators are considering a measure that would allow residents to have smart meters removed from their homes.
There is not an opt-out program for OG&E customers in Oklahoma or Arkansas, company officials said, because that would create holes in the network and limit the system’s benefits to customers and the company.
OG&E has installed more than 600,000 smart meters in Oklahoma, while Centerpoint has put in more than 2 million in Houston.
For now, Taormina will be allowed to keep her old meter, but her utility company is not pleased with her actions.
“We are deeply troubled by anyone who would pull a gun on another person performing their job,” a CenterPoint spokesperson told KENS5. “CenterPoint will be taking additional steps – including court actions – because what happened is dangerous, illegal and unwarranted.”
Taormina has formed a group called “We the People” to push regulators to allow Texas residents to choose whether they want smart meters.
While awaiting a ruling on its request for a rate increase, Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. is rolling out an interim increase and seeking to adjust its fuel costs.
The moves are expected to leave most OG&E customers paying less for their electricity.
“We believe that this is an equitable, short-term solution,” said OG&E spokesman Brian Alford. “We are able to cover our costs by implementing new rates, which are subject to refund should the (Oklahoma Corporation) Commission’s order ultimately provide for a lower increase. And, we can provide assurance to our customers that their summer bills will not go up as a result of our rate request. We understand our customers’ concern over high bills during the summer months.”
The utility company, which serves nearly 800,000 customers in Oklahoma and western Arkansas, asked the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to approve a $73 million rate increase last year to cover the cost of nearly $500 million in new investments over the previous two years.
Consumer advocates, including the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, countered by calling for a rate decrease ahead of a hearing before an administrative law judge at the corporation commission in December and January.
The judge has not issued a recommendation to the elected commissioners who will decide the rate case, so OG&E is moving forward with an interim increase.
The $24 million increase will be offset by a $50 million reduction in fuel costs due to lower-than-expected natural gas costs.
“During the past several years, we have invested well over $500 million in electric system improvements,” Alford said. “With significant additional investment on the horizon, we must keep our credit card balance in check, so to speak, so that we’re able to meet future investment needs.”
The interim rate increase will be refunded to customers if it is eventually rejected by regulators.
OG&E is allowed to enact the increase since it has been more than six months since the company filed its rate case.
Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. is warning customers not to fall for scammers asking for personal information.
The utility said the bogus pitch tells customers the White House will pay or credit customer bills if they fill out fake payment forms on the Web.
Scammers have used email, posted fliers and used social media to spread the fake solicitation. The messages ask customers to enter their social security numbers to make a payment, the company said in a news release. The payment is then run through a fake bank and routing number so it won’t be processed.
“We want our customers to be aware of this scam and to be sure to protect their personal information and not give out their social security number or any personal information through unsolicited email,” said OG&E spokeswoman Kathleen O’Shea.
OG&E said it processes payments in the following ways:
· Online at www.oge.com
· Through automated bank draft
· At walk-in payment centers (a list of pay agents can be found at www.oge.com)
· By credit card at www.payoge.com
· By phone at (877) 306-9274
· By mail
The utility said customers who may have been affected by the scam should call their local police departments, the state attorney general’s consumer office or the Better Business Bureau. Customers can also call OG&E at (800) 272-9741.