A Corporate Culture Emphasizing Electric Reliability

Dominion line crew working on the Hurricane Matthew clean-up. Photo credit: Electric Power & Light.

I normally don’t take notice of corporate awards and recognitions. That goes double for Dominion Virginia Power’s awards and recognitions, knowing that I will be accused of shilling for a sponsor of this blog. I make an exception this time because I want to address a point raised in the comments of a recent post, “Crunching the Numbers on Dominion Virginia Power.”

In that post I took a close look at three statistics that Dominion wanted to publicize because they put the company in a favorable light. I thought two of those numbers needed to be viewed in the context of the larger debate over Virginia energy policy, and I provided that context. However, I accepted the third without reservation — that customers have experienced on average a 10 percent improvement in electric power reliability since 2011. I wrote, “Dominion’s corporate culture places tremendous emphasis on reliability.”

I based that assessment on numerous interviews and visits to corporate facilities, but most particularly upon a tour of the company’s central operations center, where resources are marshaled and prioritized to deal with storm outages. Now, I’ll admit that I am no expert on utility operations, and I’m not saying that Dominion couldn’t do things better, but it is manifestly clear to me after interacting with the company for a year and a half that employees are imbued with the central mission of keeping the lights on.

By way of supporting evidence, I cite the presentation of the “Emergency Recovery Award” by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) for outstanding power restoration efforts in response to Hurricane Matthew.

The hurricane hit parts of North Carolina and Virginia on Oct. 8 with high winds and torrential rain, and knocked out power to 350,000 customers. Extensive flooding hindered the repair efforts. According to Dominion, the hurricane was one of the “top ten” storms the company has faced in its history. The company’s crews dedicated 113,704 hours to recovery work.

“The tireless work by Dominion Virginia Power crews to restore service following Hurricane Matthew exemplifies our industry’s commitment to customer service and safety,” said EEI President Tom Kuhn in granting the recognition. “The courageous and dedicated Dominion Virginia Power crews who faced dangerous conditions in the wake of this storm are greatly deserving of this terrific recognition.”

Dominion, like other electric utilities, is responsible for keeping the lights on. Most people probably understand that in the abstract, but rarely do they fully appreciate — as I did not before I started covering energy issues — what it takes to do that in practice. One can argue about Dominion’s environmental priorities, its passion for nuclear power, or any number of other things, but as a customer and a reporter, I don’t see how anyone can question the company’s commitment to providing reliable service.

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19 responses to “A Corporate Culture Emphasizing Electric Reliability”

  1. The electric power at our NoVA house is extremely reliable. We have had maybe 5 hurricanes and/or derechos and we have never lost power. I attribute this probably to good design in our area. Where I saw the potential issue was called D to report a non-immediate problem, not at our house (drooping power line fallen off the support) , they did not respond well to that. Clearly in NoVA, D is huge way better than Pepco in DC/MD is constantly in the news for poor reliability after storms. Pepco seems to be improving a little bit.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Good LORD Bacon! this is an industry association !!!

    they hand out awards like candy canes at Christmas to anyone that looks like an electric utility!!

    the real question is : WHO didn’t get awards!

    Google search this:

    “Emergency Recovery Award” by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) for outstanding power restoration efforts in response to Hurricane Matthew.”

    Now you ARE SHILLING! Are they paying you by the word or what?


  3. I would agree with Jim. The local Dominion people with whom I am familiar are very committed to reliability and serving their community. They are not alone in this. This is a priority for utilities throughout the country, although some are better at it than others. One of the ways utilities recover so quickly from storm damage is by getting a great deal of assistance from utility crews from outside the storm zone. People who could be at home, safe and sound, come to the aid of other utilities in extreme weather conditions to help get their customers back online at the earliest possible moment. This trait is common among utility workers and we should all be thankful for it.

    One of the difficulties in speaking about “Dominion” and their shortcomings related to projects such as the ACP and their overall energy plan for the future is that it is hard for people to relate to that behavior (from Dominion Resources or Dominion Transmission) because it does not conform to the quiet dedication they see from their neighbors that work for DVP.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’d be receptive to objective comparison data… using specific standards.

    I would support – the utilities themselves and the industry establishing metrics and standards and making them available to folks.

    but I don’t buy excuses that you can’t compare and there is no way you can set up standards for comparison.

    at the end of the day – these are more PR fluff than verifiable data.

    To Dominions and REC (my provider) credit – they have created some pretty good outage maps.. and they should be well recognized for that. (and this is an example of the type of “new” jobs that are available now for the properly skilled )

    Without defined standards “reliability” is a slippery concept and the utilities know this when they or industry surrogates claim reliability.

    I give them credit when they work to get the power back on – no question about it – they are a dedicated bunch and take pride in their work. and deserve credit for their efforts – but I’m talking about the guys and the gals that do the work not the PR office.

    1. There is nothing slippery about comparing a given utility’s reliability metrics against itself over time.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        yeah there is – if it is so nebulous it cannot be explained in simple terms to average folks.. it’s just a bogus concept.

        it’s like Dominion telling you “We’ve gotten a LOT better” and you say show me and they say “no can do you gotta take our word for it”.

        Seriously Jim Bacon – this is your defense?

        good lord guy!

        1. Seriously, Larry Gross — this is your argument?

          Many companies benchmark against themselves. It’s common practice.

          Good lord dude!

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            it’s a COMMON PR practice!

            GOOD COMPANIES compare against THEIR competitors.

            it’s totally bogus… it’s like GM telling you that this years model is more reliable than last years model.. rather than having a Consumers Reports comparison.

            I thought you were MR. Transparency!

            this is about as opaque as you can get! It’s as transparent as a cumquat!

            Geeze if the govt or schools did this – you’d be all over them!

  5. Larry, your irrelevant attacks on Jim are becoming tiresome. You almost never attack his central point, which in this case is that Dominion has gotten better. Broadly, your arguments are more often than not chock full of fallacies, in this case, stuff that falls under the broad category of “irrelevancy”; more specifically, what you do is known as a genetic fallacy: attacking the source rather than what’s at issue, and otherwise known as the ad hominem attack. You attack the status of the person/organization giving the award to Dominion. You call Jim a shill. You denounce the Association as an industry association ( Also known as the Emotional Appeal, argumentum ad populum: after all everyone knows that industry associations are evil, don’t they? All you have to do is tell the folks “It’s that evil association saying this” and the argument is over, right?)

    If you have a point, don’t make me Google search through a bunch of crap on the net, make the point and then use the particular link as a citation for your authority. If you have figures that dispute the notion that Dominion is doing better, then use them. Other writers on this blog do so, so should you. Otherwise, please go away.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      @Crazy – It’s PRECISELY the point that there are NO figures… guy

      the rest of your comment is inane foolish ishness I thought better of you before! you’re losing your edge!

  6. Of course, as usual, you attack me rather than the substance of what I’m saying. Do you dispute the notion that your arguments are fallacious under normal standards of logic? If so, why?

    Another irrelevancy, that of the Irrelevant Function or Goal: criticizing a proposition because it does not meet a standard that it never attempted to meet.

    As long as I’m being foolish, Larr, permit me my own genetic fallacy: If I understand correctly, you were once a longtime teacher. Are the type of arguments you make what you taught your pupils? Perhaps you are part of the reason our educational system is so screwed up.

    Obviously, you have nothing better to do with your time than sit around posting blog responses. You must be part of the instant response brigade made so famous by the Democratic party. Gotta go back to work.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    Geeze Crazy – I can hardly keep up with Bacon!

    re: ” the rest of your comment”

    see .. it’s the comment , guy…

    iane comment.. not person.. you’re a FINE person.. though you could
    have a more pleasant Gravatar.

    if you feel like I ever attack you as a person -say so – and I’ll immediately apologize… never my intention .. but I am rough on comments.. at times!

    I do admit to having too much time on my hands in retirement ..at times to the clear detriment of others…

  8. I really don’t care if you attack me or Jim per se. I’m a big boy and not that easily insulted. It’s the form of argument that is tiresome. Ad hominem attacks are what’s going down for argument these days, and it’s wearisome. Saul Alinsky at its worst.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    distinguish between attack on the point and attack on the person..

    per Jim’s rules: ” Direct all the fire and fury you want at another person’s argument, but do not engage in ad hominem attacks.”

    I highly respect Jim – but his arguments need attention..at times..

    ” Ad hominem (Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”[1]), short for argumentum ad hominem, is a logical fallacy in which an argument is rebutted by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself”

    go back up-thread and tell me where I did otherwise..

    even Jim says this: ” Seriously, Larry Gross — this is your argument?”

    do you see otherwise?

  10. Rowinguy1 Avatar

    There are a couple of reliability measurements–SAIDI and SAIFI–against which the utility’s reliability performance can be accurately depicted over time. One measures the average number of outages a customer experiences and the other measures the duration of those outages. Each measure removes “major storms” from the computation, so you can see how “normal condition” reliability is either improving or deteriorating. PEPCO, mentioned above by TBill, provides an example where it became easy to see deterioriating reliability and regulators in DC and Maryland imposed penalties and measures to incent improvement.

  11. TBill, Rowinguy, TomH, CJD have it right, there are statistics out there (SAIDI and SAIFI, and many other statistics kept by the NERC, not just EEI), and there are intangible reputations and aecdotal evidence also. I’ve been out of the loop too long to have current knowledge of what EEI was recognizing DOM for, but I know that DOM has a long-standing reputation for prioritizing reliability over short term profit, the kind of reputation that isn’t made, and isn’t dismantled, in just a few years. And I also know that EEI, while plainly an industry-run association, does NOT “hand out awards like candy canes at Christmas to anyone that looks like an electric utility!” The competition between utilities for those EEI awards may not be what keeps CEOs up at night but it’s a useful recognition of a useful achievement by one’s industry peers and not handed out lightly.

    LG, you do show us a knee-jerk reaction to information from what you consider a biased source. The problem, to put it kindly, is that that’s often the only information that’s available, which leaves us (1) comparing the data for RELATIVE standings and scrambling for a larger context in which to interpret it or (2) researching for better data, which often means finding narrow-focus tidbits which need to be interpreted in a larger context. Who the heck is going to supply all that context?? That’s why I read this blog, and give credit to Jim for trying to tell us a lot more than the newspaper. And I sure as heck couldn’t write two or three posts a day providing as much information and personal knowledge as he does. I accept your definition of ad hominem, and also what CJD says, “All you have to do is tell the folks “It’s that evil association saying this” and the argument is over, right?” This IS “attacking the source rather than what’s at issue”; it IS ad hominem. Of course those aren’t attacks on Jim personally in the schoolyard “Your mother wears Army boots” sense but those ARE disparaging the data source rather than countering or critiquing the data itself or the argument Jim is making, and calling him a shill even despite his disclaimer at the outset DOES disparage him personally for using that source. Of course it’s proper to point out the potential bias in info from a seemingly innocent-sounding “institute” — but once said, why dwell on that when it’s not relevant to the argument being made?

    Now, about them Redskins . . . .

  12. LarrytheG Avatar

    Alright.. didn’t you guys just say: ” there are statistics out there (SAIDI and SAIFI, and many other statistics kept by the NERC, not just EEI)”

    ” One measures the average number of outages a customer experiences and the other measures the duration of those outages.”

    I would consider those to be legitimately measures for both peer comparisons and even self-compare… but SOMETHING that is quantitative and not just PR blether and when asked – some vague answer implying it’s not easy to measure ..just take our word for it – and Oh by the way we got this “industry award” – which says we’re good but it to don’t have no metrics.

    come on Acbar —- metrics not PR…

    and Jim is the one who used the SHILL word.. I just disagreed with his own self-assessment..

    and I did not say the association was evil – nope I said that everyone and their dog gets awards from associations – that’s what associations do!!

    seriously – if ANY entity wants to make a claim about itself -it’s just PR unless they provide some credible data to back up the claim.

    As far as ascribing motives to organizations being “Ad Hominem” – I’ll take that under advisement and perhaps rephrase in specifics to point out conflicts and other shortcomings of their work products.. if they suits you but the meaning won’t change – some groups are largely known as agenda-driven and their “studies” have “issues” and if you want the gory details..so be it…

    but awards from industry associations to the companies that in those associations? THAT IS BOGUS.. and pay attention “THAT” is CONDUCT and CONFLICT of Interest of which I give my view…

    if I “dwelled”.. that’s different eh? sheeesh..

  13. Acbar, Rowing, TBill, and the rest of you: Methinks Larry just likes to hear himself talk, …’er …write, and it’s probably futile to point out the mistakes in logic in that writing.

    1. Ah well, the rest of us can talk over the noise. Appreciate that you’re trying to keep us engaged in ONE conversation.

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