Utah Power Under Attack from Residents

Utah Power Under Attack from Residents

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John Hollenhorst ReportingUtah Power took a big hit from Mother Nature during last week's snowstorm. Now the company is being hit again with a storm of criticism from some angry homeowners.

Today on Day Six of the power outages, a few unlucky residents still don't have electricity. Utah Power says that number is in the low hundreds. But some disgruntled customers say the episode reveals major problems at the power company.

In fairness we should say many people who lost electricity are willing to give Utah Power a little slack. They blame the storm, not the power company. But then there's Maggie Shaw of Salt Lake City. Maggie Shaw is one unhappy customer of Utah Power.

Maggie Shaw, Salt Lake City Resident: "This was not a horrible storm. These are the kinds of storm we used to get in Utah all the time. They are not adequately prepared."

She lost power five days and four nights -- longer than usual.

Maggie Shaw: "Umm, I have lost it as many as six to 10 times per year."

She says the fundamental problem is that Utah Power doesn't trim enough trees near power lines.

Maggie Shaw: "I ask every time I have to call in, because I've lost power, that they need to trim the trees." Q: "Have they ever trimmed trees here?" A: "Not since 1984."

Company officials claim they doubled the tree-trimming budget in recent years. But last Friday that may have been irrelevant.

Kimball Hansen, Utah Power: "Even if we had gone through the entire valley and trimmed a week before the storm, according to our specifications, we still would have had this damage."

Shaw says her whole neighborhood lost power because one tree branch took down one wire to one house.

Maggie Shaw: "And this system is so antiquated, it's like a domino effect. It just trips everything down the line. And so when this went it took out everybody."

Kimball Hansen, Utah Power: "Over the last two years we've spent $200 million in infrastructure improvement on the Wasatch Front and we're going to spend a like amount in the next couple of years."

But Shaw argues that Utah Power expends resources in growth areas and lets old neighborhoods die on the vine. On top of everything else, she says her power could have been restored a day earlier except the contract repairmen botched the job.

Maggie Shaw: "This equipment is much older than they are. And I don't think they really know how to repair it."

Sorting out the claims and counterclaims is no easy task. Mayor Rocky Anderson and the Public Service Commission plan to investigate aspects of this, without necessarily blaming anyone so far.

Maggie Shaw has been turned into a crusader. She plans to battle Utah Power over its next rate increase.

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