Sierra Pacific praised for storm repair efforts |

Sierra Pacific praised for storm repair efforts

Brendan Riley, Associated Press

Sierra Pacific Power Co. was praised Monday by state regulators for its efforts to restore service to some 65,000 customers who lost power in recent El Nino-driven storms.

State Public Utilities Commission Chairman Don Soderberg credited Reno-based Sierra Pacific with doing “an incredible job” after hearing the utility’s president describe the massive power-restoration effort.

The commission met in Carson City early Monday morning. No comments were made from the public.

Sierra chief Jeff Ceccarelli didn’t have an estimate of costs involved in restoring electricity following storms that started Dec. 14. By Dec. 16, 10 feet or more of snow had fallen at higher elevations.

But Ceccarelli had plenty of details of the utility’s struggle to fix about 150 power poles damaged in the storms, string new lines to homes, and answer up to 15,000 calls a day from anxious customers.

Ceccarelli said that on Dec. 14, he walked into the utility’s control room, where there’s a large board with red lights to show lines in service and green lights to show lines out of service.

“There were flashing green lights all over the board,” said Ceccarelli, adding he had never seen so many in his years at Sierra Pacific.

Much of the damage was caused by winds that hit 130 to 135 mph over mountain ridges, and the 65,000 customers who lost service were the most in the utility’s history, he said.

Sierra Pacific has about 325,000 electrical customers in Northern Nevada and northeastern California.

Ceccarelli said the utility, which typically has 14 service crews, wound up with 42 crews by drawing on a sister company, Las Vegas-based Nevada Power, and on contract employees in California, Oregon and Utah.

He said Gov. Kenny Guinn’s office helped by granting an emergency exemption from commercial driver’s license rules so that utility employees could drive to make repairs for more than 15 hours a day.

By Dec. 18, Ceccarelli said most customers were back in service, although some Tahoe-area houses remained without power because of damage caused by fallen trees or other problems that prevented immediate service restoration.

Ceccarelli said of the hundreds of utility workers who helped in the massive effort, only two had minor injuries — a sprained ankle and a scratched shoulder.