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Updated July 13

Power outages from three strong storms in less than a month’s time may be jangling some residents’ nerves. City officials reported that a day after the July 11 storm there were still approximately 8,300 ComEd accounts in Evanston without power. ComEd’s estimated that it would be a multi-day process to restore power to everyone. 

As of 2:30 p.m. on July 13, the City reported 1,200 ComEd accounts in Evanston without power. There are 85 open work-order tickets of which 47 are for single customer accounts, the City said. That number had decreased from the
morning’s estimate of 
2,000 Evanston ComEd customers  without power. ComEd estimates that 90% of outages will be restored system wide by Thursday at midnight and 99% restored by Sunday afternoon.

The July 11 storm hit Evanston just after 8 a.m. with 75-miles-per-hour winds, according to reports from the City and elsewhere. ComEd officials reported 500,000 customers were without power just after the storm hit, many of the outages “due to fallen trees and branches on power lines,” according to a statement from the City of Evanston, which added: “In Evanston, peak outage was at 18,745 ComEd customers; now down to 11,812.”

By mid-morning on July 11 the City estimated that more 50 trees and 100 power lines were down. Evanston Township High School reported that the exterior roof on Gym 170 was lost due to the storm, and that a large tree fell on the edible acre.

City officials say they will continue to remain in contact with ComEd. “ComEd has said they have crews in Evanston working, but believe this will be a multi-day restoration for the region,” according to the City.

By comparison, the storm that hit on June 21, with winds at 75-80 miles per hour, knocked out service to 450,000 ComEd customers, but only about 4,100 of them were in Evanston. It took crews almost four days to restore power to all parts of the City.

The Daily Northwestern reported that one ComEd official “called the [July 11] storm the most severe in the past 10 years.”

Restoring Power After the June 21 Storm

The City’s Utilities Commission monitors both ComEd and NICOR and make recommendations to the City Council about energy use and conservation and relations with utilities. According to the City’s website, the mission of the Utilities Commission is “to protect and promote the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens, businesses and institutions of Evanston, it is necessary to participate in the planning and improvement of electrical, natural gas, telephone, water and sewer services in Evanston to insure reliable and competitive service.”

At the July 8 Utilities Commission meeting, Water Department Supervisor Lara Biggs gave a report on the June 21 storm: About half of the 4,127 ComEd accounts [customers] without power as a result of that storm were restored in the first half hour of repairs. However, she said, afterward, “The rate of restoration slowed.” ComEd brought in crews from several other states, she said, to help restore the power. The company’s triage protocol was life safety, critical infrastructure (such as the area around the north stand pipe) and the area around Northwestern University.

Although the City updated residents with the information it had, lack of information from ComEd, coupled with underestimated repair times, said Ms. Biggs accounted for much of the delay. “To restore 400,000 people to power is really a technical feat,” said Ms. Biggs, adding that City officials still had some reservations about the poor communication and “how they [ComEd] went about it.”

As an example, said Ms. Biggs, “ComEd did not realize that 2,000 customers without power were on a single circuit. They thought there were two separate [problems].” Had they realized that the problems stemmed from one circuit, the repairs could have been completed sooner.

On the third day after the storm hit (Friday, June 24), ComEd sent a representative to Evanston and allowed City officials access to its database. This showed four separate areas of town where power had not been restored to about 100 accounts each.

Aftermath and Assessment of the June 21 Storm

No assessment has yet been made of the July 11 storm. At the July 8 Utilities Commission meeting, resident Noah Golden, whose power was out for three-and-a-half days after the June 21 storm, expressed his concern about ComEd’s infrastructure. He said he understood that problems and delays in repairs arise after major storms but asked what checks the City has on ComEd for general repairs and upkeep. “My concern is not emergency response. My concern is, ‘Did facilities planning leave Evanston vulnerable to these [outages]?’”

Ms. Biggs said the Utilities Commission and Utilities Superintendent Dave Stoneback have been working on these issues.

Figures provided by ComEd for 2009 and 2010 show continuing problems in 10 circuits. In terms of outages, the top three are C661, in the downtown core; C4713, at the lakefront; and C4716, which stretches from Ridge Avenue to Dodge Avenue between Church and Main streets. And while casual conversation often points to wind and squirrels as the main cause of power outages, ComEd’s figures show that in 2009 and 2010 a total of 35,337 customers were affected by outages caused by underground equipment: 113 outages lasting an aggregate sum of 17,235 minutes.

Relations between the City and ComEd have improved over the years, and ComEd now provides regular information about power outages in Evanston. A subgroup of the Utilities Commission, the Technical review Group (TRG), meets regularly with ComEd to air Evanston concerns. Rather than signing onto a multi-decade franchise agreement as did other communities in the Northwest Municipal Conference, the City of Evanston has taken the route of making shorter agreements with the utility. The most recent agreement, signed last year, was for five years, though most of the others since the late 1990s have been for three years.

ComEd trims parkway trees on a regular basis and performs other basic services to try to prevent storm damage from causing power outages. The City through the TRG has recently been pressing ComEd to overhaul its underground cable network.

Referring to the bill on Governor Pat Quinn’s desk that would allow power utilities to seek a 2 percent rate increase to perform infrastructure repairs, Mr. Golden asked whether the City of Evanston could act as a watchdog to see that the money was well spent.

Utilities Commission member Richard Lanyon said, “We can’t control ComEd, but we can cajole them.

Information provided by ComEd shows the following information about outages, customers affected and duration for the “top three” circuits in 2009 and 2010.

Circuit         Outage Count        Customers Affected        Duration (Minutes)

C661           41                           7,610                            10,584

C4713         31                         12,240                            6,917

C4716         18                           2,938                            7,583

Power Outage Info to the Cell Phone

Residents still without power can request text alerts from ComEd about when their power will be restored. Visitors to the ComEd website, comed.com, can go to “customer service” and click on “outage information” to fill out a request for information to be sent to their cell phones.  

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...