After forced outages AEP offers support, scant details on improvements

By: - July 5, 2022 3:50 am

American Electric Power headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. Getty Images.

In Columbus Friday, Reps. Latyna Humphrey, D-Columbus and Dontavius Jarrells, D-Columbus, joined the COO of AEP and local service providers to talk about support available for residents impacted by recent power outages.

But AEP President and COO Marc Reitter was vague about steps the company is taking to avoid similar outages in the future. (Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Reitter as the CEO of AEP. He is the COO. We regret the error).

“I’ve talked to 40-year employees at AEP Ohio and they’ve never seen anything like it,” Reitter said. “We hope it doesn’t happen again, but we have to prepare, and that’s why we’re meeting with experts.”

From left, Rep. Latyna Humphrey, D-Columbus, Rep. Dontavius Jarrells, D-Columbus, AEP CEO Marc Reitter, IMPACT CEO Bo Chilton. Photo by Nick Evans, OCJ.

He said the company has invested “hundreds of millions of dollars” in infrastructure and that will continue. Looking ahead, he described efforts to better and more quickly signal customers about forced outages, and work to improve relationships with local support groups rather than offering any examples of system improvements that could make similar shutoffs less likely.

To assist the thousands of central Ohio residents who lost power, AEP expanded an existing program that offers statement credits to power customers and the company donated a total of $1 million to the Mid-Ohio Food Collective, LifeCare Alliance, Columbus Urban League and IMPACT Community Action.

Those organizations’ experience depict just how significant a problem the outage posed for local residents. The Urban League closed down its application website after just 24 hours and reduced the total amount available to households due to the high demand. At IMPACT’s campus, a line snaked around the building with people applying for $250 Kroger gift cards to replace spoiled food.

Reitter defended the company’s decision not provide direct support in the wake of the shut off, noting utilities aren’t liable for acts of god, but they made donations to be a good corporate citizen.

“They do it better than us,” he said of the service organizations. “They’re great partners, it’s a long history of partnership. And so we recognize that and that’s why we provide the funds to help.”

Rep. Jarrells thanked AEP for its assistance, but referencing the Urban League, he said there are more people who need help.

“There are approximately 800 families who may not still get served,” he said. “So, it speaks to the overwhelming demand that there are families that are still struggling on top of the normal day in and day out struggles that they face.”

The Public Utility Commission of Ohio is holding a hearing July 13 as part of its investigation into the outages. Reitter said he welcomes the oversight.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.



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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.