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Thousands Of We Energies Customers Remain Without Power, Leading Some To Express Concern

Tree down in Riverwest
Chuck Quirmbach
Prior to a Thursday news conference held by We Energies, a large tree limb blocked Vienna Avenue in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood.

We Energies says thousands — about 19,000 as of 8 a.m. Friday — of people in its service area are still without power, and some will be without electricity until midday Saturday. Most of the people doing without are in Milwaukee County, both in the city of Milwaukee and some of the suburbs.

It's the big ongoing impact from Tuesday night's storm that toppled many trees and caused what the utility says are the worst local power outages in decades.

>> We Energies' Outage Map

As of midday Thursday, Rafael Smith, who lives in Milwaukee's Harambee neighborhood, had no electricity. He said that its been tough physically and mentally,

"Not to be able to do just the basics of life takes a toll on you. So, it's been more than a chore, more than a hassle," Smith told WUWM.

Smith isn't happy with the delays and hang ups he said he got when calling We Energies' customer service department. Thursday afternoon, Milwaukee Alderperson Michael Murphy also charged that many customers aren't happy with communication, "or lack thereof," from the utility.

Murphy said he shares their concerns.

Chuck Quirmbach
We Energies President Tom Metcalfe (left) and line mechanic Steve Cain speak to reporters Thursday.

But for the second day, We Energies president Tom Metcalfe met with the news media for an update. He said the utility's crews and those brought in from elsewhere have restored power to more than 200,000 customers as of Friday, and 95% of those who lost power should have it by Friday night.

Metcalfe said the company is throwing all resources it can at the recovery effort and is sparing no expenses.

He said the effort has entered a new phase. "We have restored our main feeders, main branch lines that support our distribution network, and our focus now is more on hand to hand combat — one customer at a time, single customer restoration effort," Metcalfe told reporters.

Metcalfe said We Energies has 600 people in the field, and another 400 in the company's call or control centers.

Chuck Quirmbach
Employees of a tree service under contract with We Energies start to remove the downed tree limb from Vienna Avenue in Milwaukee.

The utility is also making heavy use of its tree service contractor that has to cut away downed trees and branches before line crews can do their thing.

The cleanup continued Thursday afternoon, the crew clearing a large tree limb that had fallen across Vienna Avenue in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood and knocked out power to at least one small apartment building.

We Energies said the chainsaws will keep running in various locations until sometime Saturday.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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