Thousands of Peco customers were still without electric service Tuesday afternoon, which may be a perversely fortuitous turn of events as the Philadelphia utility gears up for the arrival Wednesday of the second major winter storm this week.
More than 1,500 additional utility workers from as far away as Texas have moved in to help Peco restore power after Friday's nor'easter knocked out 630,000 of its 1.6 million customers, and Peco is not letting them leave, just yet.
More than 17,000 Peco customers were still without power Tuesday evening, and Peco planned to retain the outside crews to help restore 1,668 separate outages. Had Peco restored service to all customers, those outside crews might be on their way home.
"We're going to keep those crews on hand throughout," said Greg Smore, a Peco spokesman.
With 1,500 reinforcements already in place, Peco will be uniquely well-positioned to respond Wednesday if it loses more customers to the second nor'easter, which could drop as much heavy snow as Friday's storm, but is not forecasted to have the same damaging winds.
The mutual aid crews have been arriving in caravans for several days after Peco put out a call for assistance before and after Friday's storm. The Philadelphia utility was among the hardest-hit utilities in 13 Eastern states that were slammed by Friday's storm.
Most of the "foreign workers" — the official term for crews from other utilities — come from southern states that are not affected by the nor'easter. The foreign crews typically work 14-hour days, starting at 6 a.m., and Peco is responsible for housing and feeding them.
Peco has projected it would restore service by midweek to remaining customers, but progress slows as each repair restores increasingly smaller clusters of remaining customers.
Steven Kline, an Abington Township commissioner, said residents in the Meadowbrook area he represents are frustrated at repeated storm outages in which their neighborhood always seems to be among the last restored.
Kline said he observed several out-of-state repair crews that were idling in their trucks Tuesday apparently waiting to be dispatched. The area has at least five outages.
"My residents feel Peco is unresponsive to their problems, and ill-equipped to respond in an efficient manner."
Wednesday's storm could slow restoration efforts with a new thick layer of snow and additional downed trees impeding repair crews, Smore said.
Smore said that those customers who have waited since Friday to have their power restored would not be ignored if the utility is hit by another major storm event that knocks out thousands of additional customers. The unfinished work from Friday's storm would take priority, he said.
"We're making sure we're not losing sight of those customers," he said.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Tuesday issued a list of precautionary tips for customers to take ahead of the storm, including writing down utility contact information and storing plenty of batteries.