KHOU-TV has aired an investigative report that alleges CenterPoint Energy’s maintenance expenditures for distribution infrastructure contributed to the number of power outages in the Houston/Galveston region in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. CenterPoint Energy takes this opportunity to provide facts about the maintenance of our distribution system and the performance of our infrastructure during the storm.
The simple fact is that our transmission and distribution infrastructure held up remarkably well in the face of Hurricane Ike. All of our steel and concrete transmission structures survived, with minor damage to a few structures. They were quickly repaired and none had to be replaced. Only 60 wooden transmission poles were destroyed, less than one percent. Ninety-five percent of transmission lines were back in service within four days and all of them within a week, with the later restorations concentrated on Galveston Island. Transmission lines carry electricity from the power plants to substations, where it is then moved to customers via the distribution system (neighborhood wood poles).
As a result of the storm, we were required to replace 6,400 wooden distribution poles to date, less than one percent of the more than one million such poles in our system. The small number of poles that required replacement is a testament to good maintenance practices, not the contrary.
As Tom Standish, CenterPoint Energy's group president of regulated operations, told KHOU in an interview during the recovery effort, we inspect wooden distribution poles annually. We also replace poles as needed, and during the seven years from 2001 to 2007, we spent a total of $26.7 million or $3.8 million per year, to replace approximately 2,500 to 3,000 rotten or damaged poles each year. Before Hurricane Ike arrived, we were experiencing an average year, having replaced approximately 2,700 poles thus far in 2008.
The outages caused by Hurricane Ike were obviously not the result of rotten or poorly maintained poles, but rather the result of trees and tree debris falling onto power lines and poles. CenterPoint Energy has spent more than $140 million over the last seven years, about $20 million per year, trimming trees away from distribution and transmission lines and removing them from our transmission rights-of-way, but tree trimming provides little defense against outages resulting from the toppling of whole trees.
We work very hard to control expenses and to find better ways to perform required maintenance at the lowest possible cost to our customers. Our annual spending for maintenance of neighborhood distribution lines will vary somewhat from year to year depending on specific projects and weather conditions (a high thunderstorm year translates into relatively higher expenses; a lower number of storms equals relatively lower expenses). Our total expenses for distribution maintenance have grown from $54.4 million in 2001 to $64.9 million in 2007. Likewise, our spending specifically for maintenance of overhead distribution lines has grown from $27.8 million in 2001 to just under $35 million in 2007.
While some may allege that inadequate pole maintenance was a cause of outages during Hurricane Ike, the facts simply do not support that assertion. In fact, we devote significant personnel and financial resources to operate and maintain our electric system in a safe, reliable, efficient and cost effective manner, and the performance of our infrastructure during Hurricane Ike demonstrated that fact.