A power outage that affected thousands of people Wednesday in New Bern was caused by a vegetative contracting crew that was working on some transmission lines from Duke Progress.

"We want to stress that we are very concerned about the power loss yesterday," Mayor Dana Outlaw said at press conference Friday at City Hall. "We want to make sure that our customers are aware that we provide reliable service to them and reassure you that we have redundant measures in order and that this will not happen again."

Charles Bauschard, director of Public Utilities, contacted Duke Energy's Operations and Control Center after the power outage started around 1:48 p.m. Wednesday to request the company disconnect the Duke's Glenburnie/Trent Road transmission line to prevent further damage to the grid. There were 17,560 customers without power for several hours as crews worked to restore power.

Bauschard said through "human error," a contractor doing vegetation management work for Duke caused the system to "catastrophically fail."

City's electric staff offered technical labor and equipment support to Duke as they tried to restore electric grid.

Bauschard said Duke workers attempted unsuccessfully to put the transmission line back into service around 7:40 p.m., but it was quickly forced out by an unknown problem on the Duke system.

When Duke was able to successfully re-energize the transmission line around 8:35 p.m., the city's electrical staff was able to restore power to thousands of people. By 9:32 p.m., all but 320 customers had their power restored. Lights came on for final customers around 1:35 a.m. Thursday.

Any customers who are still without power should contact the city's utility control center at 252-636-4070.

Friday, city staff was busy doubling check to ensure hat all customers have power.

"We are also inspecting our equipment to ensure it’s operational integrating and reliability. Additionally, we believe that the Duke’s repairs were only a temporary fix," Bauschard said. "As result, today we are reaching out to leaders at Duke to ensure that a permanent and reliable repair will be made in the immediate future. We will also discuss the need for Duke to provide redundancy and resiliency in the transmission service to New Bern."

City Manager Mark Stephens said the power outages like this are unacceptable.

"While this power outage was very much out of the city's control, the city's leadership and staff are vowing to work with Duke Progress to plan and coordinate future efforts and improvements throughout our system to assist in mitigating future outages such as the one we experienced. Power instances such as these does not meet our expectations nor does it meet our customers' expectations. We as a city, and I think our leadership, aldermen, mayor and myself – we don't want to tolerate this."

Stephens said various improvements to the electric grid will be discussed and explored such as redundancy with Duke, automated technology and building upon operational reliability and integrity within the system so as to better prevent outages.

"Our city values its customers and wants to ensure the highest level of customer service are provided," he said. "That's the reason we are public power provider."

Stephens said the repairs made by Duke Progress may not necessarily be a longterm fix.

"It is our belief that the repairs made by Duke Progress to the transmission line may be only a temporary fix and that a more permanent repair will need to be made," he said. "City leaders and staff will be reaching out to Duke and the leaders of their organization to ensure that this permanent and reliable repair will be made in the immediate future, and that it's done so to limit the impact to our customers that we serve throughout our system."

Stephens said power substations are limited by the amount of electricity they can carry, that's why there are multiple substations throughout the city. During the power outage, power was rerouted as best as possible so as to gain back as many customers as possible, but this proved problematic when the increased load on elements of the remaining grid became too much.

"The problem is when that load starts getting to be too much, it can trip the substation off and then you lose that one as well, which happened several times yesterday," Stephens said. "The issue with a majority that was the load that was being applied to the system at one time due to cold weather, people's heat strips, their water heaters come on, so forth and so on. When we started experiencing that, we had to start backing down a bit off that substation."

Stephens said the potential location of new substation is included as part of the city's capital improvement plan, which will be part of the discussions for fiscal year 2019/20.

City Hall will ask Duke for a secondary point of service from the company to prevent a large scale power outage that would affect the entire city.

"Some of the discussions we are having with Duke are that if one substation goes down, we don't lose an entire system like this again," Stephens said. "Obviously that greatly impacted our customers, our businesses and residents. We want to investigate that to the fullest and will do so. Board of Alderman is supportive of that to ensure that these kinds of incidents don't happen."

Stephens praised city staff across the board from police and firefighters to utility workers who worked afterhours in adverse weather conditions as well as Lenoir County Sheriff's Department and NC Highway Patrol for dispatching their resources in this time of great need.