Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A year ago last month: Ed Liberty was hired to be the director of LWEU.

And yes, it’s true . . .

April–June was certainly a bad three month stretch for the Lake Worth Electric Utility (LWEU).

But how many people remember what happened in September last year, two months after Liberty was hired? The man at the helm, Dir. Ed Liberty, was certainly up for that challenge. Liberty was hired to run LWEU in July 2017 and just a short time later he had a visitor: Hurricane Irma. He weathered that storm well. Here is the news from last year courtesy of The Lake Worth Herald:

Lake Worth City Manager Michael Bornstein has announced the selection of the candidate for Utilities Director for the City. Ed Liberty brings experience, expertise and leadership qualities to the City of Lake Worth Utilities Department.
     Liberty is an energy industry executive with experience in natural gas and electric T&D [Transmission and Distribution] operations, electric generation, renewable energy project development, energy and sustainability services and asset development.
     Most recently with Public Service Electric & Gas, Newark, New Jersey, Liberty has been the leader of the company’s utility operations with functions including Materials and Logistics Management, Transportation/Fleet, Environmental, Health & Safety and Training.

It’s time for a little perspective in the LWEU service area which includes parts of the Village of Palm Springs and unincorporated (suburban) Lake Worth. Further down below is some history about the LWEU to put things in context. There were three power outages — one in April and then another in May and June — and other bad news as well:

  • The power outage on April 9th was when the beat reporter from the Post went all silly in describing it a night of “misery”; the reality is most people hardly noticed due to the temperate weather.
  • Then came this news about LWEU on May 2nd per Commissioner Omari Hardy: “Revenue in the electric fund did not grow as we expected it to grow. Residential customers barely increased, commercial customers barely increased, and electric usage per household was down, even when you account for the fact that we didn’t sell power for a week after [Hurricane] Irma.”
  • On May 20th came the breaking news about the “Zombie Alert” as reported by McKenna Ross. This was a brief outage but the news went viral worldwide.
  • Then on Wednesday June 20th into Thursday morning, was the outage that caused a lot of angst due to the hot weather.

From the City of Lake Worth’s Public Information Officer, Mr. Ben Kerr:

“Lake Worth, FL — At 10:58 PM on June 20, 2018, an equipment failure at the point of delivery for Lake Worth Electric Utility’s external power supply caused a system wide outage affecting all of our customers.”

“Power restoration progressed through the
night with all customers being restored to service by 6:15 AM.”

By the way, did you know today marks exactly three hundred and eighteen (318) days since the last editorial was published in The Palm Beach Post about this little 6 square mile City? I know. It sounds unbelievable but it’s true.

So don’t be surprised if the Post editorial board finally decides to chime in to try and capitalize on the public angst, worry, or concern about what’s happening and/or not happening with LWEU. True, a City Commission workshop or some sort of public forum would be very timely to get more information out to the public. Plus, as we learned from Mayor Pam Triolo at the Commission meeting last month there will be a lot more workshops coming up in the near future anyway.

Whilst on that topic, here are some upcoming public meetings:

  • Next Monday (July 16th) will be Budget Work Session #3 at the City Commission.
  • A regular City Commission meeting will be held on Tuesday, July 17th.
  • There will be a Commission “Visioning Workshop” on Tuesday, July 24th.
  • The Electric Utility Advisory Board (EUAB) will meet on Wednesday, August 1st.

Now back to the electric outages in April, May, and June this year with a little historical perspective.

The outage in June was similar to the event last April in that the tie-in line with the electric grid (FPL) was damaged for unknown reasons. However, an investigation may determine the exact cause. The real cause for concern is there is only one tie-in line. The City needs a backup and most everyone acknowledges that.

So we had a total of three outages over the span of seventy-three (73) days. In other words about one every 3½ weeks and one of those outages, the one on May 20th, was very brief.

Now imagine for a moment having an outage every single week or multiple times per week? On some days having the lights flicker on and off all day long? That’s how the Lake Worth Electric Utility used to be.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane. . .

The excerpts below are from an article written by Palm Beach Post staff writer Josh Hafenbrack.

“After [Hurricane] Frances struck Sept. 5 [2004], it took Lake Worth Utilities two weeks to fully restore power to its customers, about the
same amount of time it took FPL to restore
power to 2.8 million.”

Back in 2004, “Crews applied only Band-Aid fixes to sagging lines, mangled poles and a disrupted power grid.”

Newspaper clipping from October 2004:

2004: “The system is still unstable,” he [former city manager Paul Boyer] said. “That’s on top of the fact that it’s old and worn out and has a tendency to have failures anyway.

“There’s no doubt they have a maintenance issue. Linesmen from other utilities said, ‘this would not happen in our hometown.’ They haven’t maintained it. That’s a fact in Lake Worth.”
ibid. Quote by Dr. Robert Tome.

A lot has changed since 2004. Take for example how well organized the LWEU and the City were during and after Hurricane Irma especially as it related to getting the out-of-state linemen in place and ready to get to work. Here is a quote from City Manager Michael Bornstein:

[T]hese guys came in at 6:00 in the morning, they were fueled up, hit the street. We fed them there at the yard. We fed them in the field while they were working. Then they came home, we fed them and they went to bed. They got back up.
     That’s the life they’re living right now as mutual-aid [out-of-town] employees coming in. The more they work the more money they make, obviously. That’s something they’re focused on. They care about what they do. I think you met some of the folks, they’re really genuine people.

Starting with the “turning on of the lights” in 1914 our utility was a thing to admire throughout the State of Florida and the country. Having our own stable and reliable electric utility was one reason why people moved here. But then late in the 1990s and early 2000s things began to turn noticeably worse.

First there were the outages every few weeks. Then the daily flickering. Then the inexplicable outages in the afternoon on a clear sunny day. There were the reports of appliances “getting fried”, TV’s and refrigerators primarily. The explanations from the utility were “falling palm fronds” and “small dead animals”.

Remember, this was BEFORE the terrible hurricanes in 2004 and 2005: Frances, Jeanne, Wilma.

Following those storms all the fanciful notions about our electric utility were laid bare. An excerpt from this blog (click on link below):

“Nothing like this happened during Hurricane Matthew [in 2016]. Granted, we were spared the brunt of that Category 4 storm spinning off of our shores, and very few (at most 200) went without power for a short period of time. As I wrote this on October 9th, two days after the storm, the Town of Palm Beach reported that 103 properties are still without power on the island. If I’m not mistaken Lake Worth had everybody back on line by then. FPL, at the peak of the storm, had 60,000+ without power in PBC. . . .

. . . That number is nearly double the entire population of Lake Worth.”

Yes, indeed. The Lake Worth Electric Utility had a bad three months last April–June. But going forward there is no lack of political will to get all this stuff fixed. Here’s what City Manager Michael Bornstein said after the March elections:

“I truly believe the fact that you [Mayor Pam Triolo and commissioners Scott Maxwell and Andy Amoroso] did get re-elected, in many ways is an affirmation of the direction that you’ve been given to this organization and to this City. Just going back six years ago when I first got here it’s been a tremendous, tremendous turnaround. Still have a lot to do but your political footing is solid.
     You’re coming from a position of clearly having the people that you represent say, ‘continue on, you are doing a good job’.
     And I just want to say thank you on behalf of the organization and myself and look forward to the next three years or more.”

I hope this blog post helps to put things in perspective. And, as always, Thank You for visiting today.