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Watchdog: DSO does not have enough employees to stay on top of outages

Power lines in the woods.
Power lines in the woods. Source: Margus Muld/ERR

Estonia's transmission system operator Elektrilevi is short on repair crews and control center operatives to effectively deal with power outages, the Competition Authority finds in its analysis. The DSO has been ordered to present a plan for rectifying these deficiencies.

The watchdog's control action found that Elektrilevi did not have enough repair crews or workers at its operations hub to restore power to customers in time during the second week of October when storm winds caused trees to fall on power lines leaving 50,000 households without power at its peak.

For outages to be sorted out inside the permitted time window their number must not exceed 2.5 per crew inside a 24-hour period in the current situation, the Competition Authority determined.

The agency also found that while a single dispatcher can handle a maximum of five simultaneous incidents the real number they had to contend with was much greater on all but one day of the October storm. This problem was also highlighted by the DSO's partners who said they had to wait 60-90 minutes on average to speak to a dispatcher, while the waiting time stretched to three or four hours in some cases.

The agency concludes that both the relative shortage of repair crews and lack of resources at the operational center are to blame for shortcomings, especially as the latter leads to ineffective use of the crews who have to wait in line to speak to the dispatch.

Maintenance outstanding on 5,000 kilometers of power lines

Because Elektrilevi has seen its expenses grow, planned maintenance has fallen behind schedule. This also concerns maintenance of power line corridors. Around 5,000 kilometers of power lines have not been maintained in 2018-2022.

Estonia has some 18,000 kilometers of power lines in need of regular maintenance. The service interval is five years for high- and medium-voltage lines and seven years for low-voltage lines. The annual maintenance load is 3,200-3,300, while this has grown in recent years because of past arrears. Elektrilevi only managed to hit its maintenance target in 2018, the Competition Authority points out.

That is another reason for extensive and lengthy power outages in recent years, including those in Saaremaa in December of last year.

"In a situation where Elektrilevi has failed to maintain roughly 28 percent of line corridors, strong winds bring trees down on power lines causing extensive outages, while heavy snow has the same effect. Unmaintained corridors also make it more difficult for repair crews to access fallen power lines and restore power," the analysis reads.

The watchdog has ordered Elektrilevi to immediately put together an activity plan for addressing these shortcomings which it needs to present by February 1. Failure to comply could incur a penalty payment of €1,300.

Storm winds caused extensive power outages all over Estonia starting October 7 last year, with up to 51,000 customers affected at one point. This happened again when heavy snow came in November, with people in southern parts of the country forced to wait weeks before power was restored to them. How many outages were caused by the November snow is still being tallied up.

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Editor: Marko Tooming, Marcus Turovski

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