It's understandable that people are frustrated about spending days without electricity in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. A Jersey Central Power and Light spokersperson said the company shares that feeling. But Chris Eck says the light at the tunnel's end is visible, and most restoration should be completed in six days.
"At this point, we can't exactly say when," Eck said. "We're still assessing the damage in some areas that we can't even get to. But we do hope to have most of our customers restored by next Wednesday."
He said there are a number of challenges that are keeping thousands of Parsippanians in the dark.
First, Eck said, is prioritization. Institutions dedicated to public safety simply must get first crack at having power restored.
"Among our priority restorations obviously are health care centers and emergency responders, police, fire, hospitals, dispatch centers and so forth," he said.
Next, JCP&L's 4,000 workers, which cover large swaths of northern and central New Jersey, have to work their way from those closest to power centers and out.
"We're working our way out from the high-voltage lines, so we've already restored 370,000 and we continue to work on those efforts every day while we repair transmission issues in other parts of the state," he said.
He said the crews are working long days. Often, however, residents don't know this. Many have asked Patch why they have not seen JCP&L trucks in Parsippany.
"It's because we have to work our way out to where they are," he explained. "We work our way down the circuit; we're working upline from [Parsippany]. Just because they haven't seen trucks makes it seem like things aren't happening, but we're working 16-hour shifts around the clock every day."
And restoration is a complicated business.
Eck explained that electricity comes from power-generating plants to electrical high-voltage substations. Subtransmission lines send electricity from the substations to customers.
"From there, you may go through a number of substations before you get to the feeder line that goes to your specific area," he said, and offered an illustration.
"Think of it as being like the interstate highway system," Eck said. "You have the interstates, and that's your high-voltage [substations], and then your subtransmission lines would be secondary roads, and then down into a feeder line would be a residential street or a smaller road.
"The farther you live from the interstate, the longer it takes you to get home. So the farther you live from the transmission line—not always, but generally—the more opportunity there is for damage between you and your power source."
Sandy created a lot of damage, and repairs simply take time. And then, there are the proliferation of downed trees, some which sat in roadways of the township with traffic cones or sawhorses for long periods of time blocking roads.
"That was a big problem," said Eck. "Just getting around was tough because so many trees were down across roads and so many wires down. We're slowly making progress in that area as municipalities are clearing trees and debris."
It certainly shows in Parsippany. The township has gone from a high of about 22,000 without power to about 13,978 (as of 6 a.m. Friday). On Thursday, a significant number of JCP&L customers in Lake Hiawatha and Lake Parsippany again saw the light. That was evident in the large number of businesses along North Beverwyck and Parsippany roads that reopened their doors.
Eck said that is a good sign for nearby business and homes still without electricity.
"It's extremely difficult to give neighborhood estimates, but if we're looking at a circuit that already has a bunch of restoration on it, then it's relatively easy to predict that [work crews] are going to move in a particular direction and will get there in x amount of time," he said.
Of course, that is not guaranteed, he cautioned.
"I'm not a transmission expert; I can't tell you exactly how long it would take," Eck said. "Even with that they sometimes run into problems they didn't foresee and find they need to bring in more equipment or forestry crews to clear debris and so forth.
"Nobody wants their power back on more than we do, but it's not possible to make your infrastructure hurricane-proof."