BUTTE, Mont. - With an estimated 3 million homes and businesses without power in Florida as a result of Hurricane Jeanne, NorthWestern Energy has committed to send 17 linemen and one supervisor to assist in power restoration efforts.

"Florida has taken another pounding from Hurricane Jeanne, leaving millions of customers without power," said Mike Hanson, NorthWestern Energy's chief operating officer. "Utility workers have been working around the clock for more than a month dealing with the impact of three major hurricanes. These heroes need some additional assistance, and our crews have volunteered to answer the call to help."

NorthWestern Energy crews began mobilizing with 13 volunteers coming from the company's operations in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Missoula, Great Falls, and Helena, Mont., and five workers from operations in South Dakota. The first contingent of crews headed for Tampa, Fla. NorthWestern Energy employees will be supporting Progress Energy Corp. in central Florida, where the company is working to restore power to approximately 650,000 customers. NorthWestern Energy has a mutual aid agreement with Progress Energy and other utilities.

"Many of our employees are eager to assist the people of Florida. As much as everyone wants to help, we must also maintain sufficient crews to meet the needs of our customers in Montana and South Dakota," said Curt Pohl, vice president of distribution operations. "This is the right thing to do. If the people of Montana and South Dakota were in need, we know we could count on the support of other utilities to come to our aide."

Pohl said he does not know how long crews will be in Florida, although the company is making plans for them to remain in Florida for two to three weeks. Jim Greenwood, a supervisor for NorthWestern Energy in Billings, will serve as the liaison between NorthWestern Energy crews and Progress Energy; the crews will work in Florida until deactivated by Progress Energy. In addition to the crews, the company is sending three bucket trucks, one line truck, and additional materials to assist in restoration efforts.

"I'm proud of our workers who have volunteered for this tough duty," Pohl said. "Storm response can be challenging when you're going into an area that has been heavily damaged. Our top priority will be making sure our employees remain safe considering the hazardous conditions in they will be working."

Publication date: 10/04/2004