By Derek Spellman

NEOSHO, Mo. — Officials from Empire District Electric Co. on Wednesday were honored for their recovery efforts from the January 2007 ice storm, but they also faced questions from reporters about a pending state inquiry into the company’s response to last month’s ice storm.

The Edison Electric Institute, an association of shareholder-owned electric companies in the United States, gave Empire its annual Emergency Recovery Award for “outstanding efforts to restore electric power in the wake of a series of severe ice storms that took out service to more than half the company’s customers,” according to a release.

At the peak of the power outages last January, about 85,000 Empire customers were without electricity.

The competition’s judges cited Empire’s importation of 1,500 contractors from 14 companies in 10 states to supplement its own 300 linemen and 100 other workers as among the factors in the award. Judges said “crews braved both continuing ice storms followed by subfreezing temperatures and hazardous conditions” to restore power to customers.

The Emergency Recovery Award also was conferred upon five other utility companies, three of which were recognized for their responses to ice storms last year.

Brad Beecher, vice president and chief operating officer for Empire, presented the award to a group of linemen in a ceremony Wednesday. Empire applied for the honor earlier this year.

“It is a tremendous reflection on your individual efforts to restore services to our customers,” he told the linemen.

After the ceremony, Beecher fielded questions from reporters about the pending investigation by the state Public Service Commission regarding the company’s preparation for and response to the Dec. 9 ice storm that at its peak left 65,000 customers without power. The responses of three other investor-owned utility companies in Missouri also will be examined.

The probe is to be carried out by the PSC staff.

Beecher said the PSC last year informally investigated Ameren’s response to the January 2007 ice storm that cut power to 1.1 million customers in Missouri and Illinois. He described the probe into Empire’s response as a formalization and expansion of that effort.

Asked if he thought the award from Edison would strengthen the company’s credibility with the PSC, Beecher replied, “I don’t think the award has any impact on the PSC’s investigation.”

He said Empire was just as prepared, if not more prepared, in December as it was in January to respond to an ice storm, particularly in the area of logistics.

Robert M. Clayton III, one of the five PSC commissioners, said he does not think the commission should rely on awards like Edison’s when evaluating a utility company’s performance.

Clayton has called for Missouri to establish performance standards for utility companies after storms have caused widespread power outages several times in the past few years.

“I think we need to have our own objective standards,” he said.

An initial report on the responses from Empire and the three other utility companies will be filed with the commission no later than April 3.


The Edison Electric Institute presented the Emergency Recovery Award to Alliant Energy, Ameren Corp., Central Vermont Public Service, Commonwealth Edison, Empire District Electric Co. and Public Service Company of Oklahoma (part of American Electric Power).

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