How Lehighton survived 'Sandy' without a major power outage
RON GOWER/TIMES NEWS Lehighton borough has its own electric distribution system, and with upgrades and continued maintenance, experiences few power outages during storms such as the October Superstorm. A new substation in Franklin Township, completed in 2011, converts high voltage power coming into the borough into a flow compatible with the distribution system.
Locally, about 10,000 Carbon County residents lost electricity during the Oct. 29 Superstorm, commonly called "Sandy."
One of the few communities not seriously affected by the storm with lost power was Lehighton.
A small area in the north end of the community had a power outage for just a couple of hours when a tree fell across wires and a transformer blew. It didn't take long before Lehighton Light and Power employees made repairs and restored electric.
Nicole Beckett, Lehighton borough manager, said there are several reasons that the borough had few storm problems, not only during Sandy but when most storms happen.
"The borough takes a proactive approach to tree trimming around the borough's power lines to ensure minimal damage and outages during storms and the winter months," she said. "We have recently completed an upgrade to the system along State Route 209 and the Bridge Street area.
She also noted that the borough owns its own distribution system, purchasing electricity wholesale and then distributing and selling it to local residents and businesses.
The distribution system is supplied by lines coming into the borough from two different locations, said a Light and Power Department employee. He said if either of these provider lines are disabled, the complete system can be connected to the second one.
One of the most significant improvements occurred in early 2011 when the borough completed a 12.8KV high voltage power line re-conductoring project. Specific work included the removal and replacement of the existing primary conductors in various parts of the community, installation of new conductors for the three-phase system, and conductors for selected single and multiphase taps off the three phase distribution system, removal of existing overloaded spacer conductors, fuse cut-outs, lightning arresters, and transfer of equipment for compatibility with the new system.
"Through this, we were able to provide more efficient and reliable power to the borough," Beckett said.
Grant Hunsicker, president of Lehighton Borough Council, said there is another proponent for the reliability of the system.
"We have a really great crew," he said.
Beckett agreed, noting that the billing office is also operated by the borough and not by any outside source.
The borough took over its distribution system in May 1943.
One of the things that has happened is that some of the money generated by the Power and Light Department is utilized in the borough's general budget and helps keep property taxes to a minimum.
Beckett said the Lehighton Light and Power Department is responsible for the electrical system, pole transmission, building maintenance, customer service, part maintenance, administration, traffic signals, street lighting, holiday decorations, and tree trimming.
The department employs a superintendent, one lineman, three apprentice linemen, one lineman helper, and three utility clerks.
"The hallmark of public power is that the utility is locally owned and locally controlled," Beckett said.
"Decisions regarding rates, operations, and long-term planning are made by locally elected officials, at public meetings, with opportunities for input from customers. This is what separates a municipal electric system from an investor-owned utility, and it's probably the most valuable aspect of public power."