Power to the People 

Twitter helped during MLGW's recent power restoration efforts; buried power lines likely wouldn't have made a difference.

Cooper-Young resident Brad Payne went six days without power after "mini hurricane Elvis" swept through Memphis earlier this month. But thanks to Memphis Light, Gas & Water's Twitter account, he wasn't kept in the dark as to when his power would be restored.

"They sent me updates on my iPhone the whole time I went without power," Payne said. "Every time something changed or was updated, I got a text message from them."

On June 12th, straight-line winds downed trees and power lines throughout the city, leaving 130,000 MLGW customers without electricity.

Payne's Nelson Street home didn't lose power until the morning after the storm when a transformer went out. The entire street lost power, but it was restored the next day. Then two days later, the homes on Payne's side of the street lost power again.

"We had just gone grocery shopping because we thought our power was back. We bought ice cream and stuff, and then we had to throw everything out," Payne said.

A representative on MLGW's Twitter account alerted Payne to the transformer situation after Payne tweeted his address to the utility company.

"Twitter has been great for communication with our customers through this," said MLGW spokesperson Chris Stanley. "We had 200 followers when we launched our Twitter account, and now we have 1,495 followers. We did a lot of direct messaging with individual customers who asked about their status."

By last Friday, MLGW had restored power to all its customers, thanks to round-the-clock work by MLGW workers and out-of-town crews. Much of the damage happened after uprooted and broken trees fell into power lines, once again bringing up the argument for buried power lines.

"Buried power lines may have prevented some, but not all, of the damage," Stanley said. "We looked at [the feasibility] of burying power lines after the summer storm of 2003, and it would have cost us about $3 billion to do that throughout the city."

Stanley said buried power lines wouldn't prevent all power outages, because the lines connect to above-ground substations.

"You can't build an entire substation underground. They're 40 or 50 feet tall," Stanley said.

In the most recent storm, MLGW had 71 circuits out. Since circuits are connected to substations, power was likely lost in some neighborhoods with buried lines.

Payne's neighborhood has traditional above-ground power lines, but his power was lost after a transformer blew. That scenario could also happen in a neighborhood with underground lines.

"I've never been impressed with MLGW," Payne said. "But I have been very impressed with them after the storm thanks to their use of Twitter."


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