ComEd Releases Online and Mobile Tools for Better Outage Information

Thursday May 31, 2012
Posted at 09:04

comed_storm_tools.jpgIllinois electricity utility Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) has released an online map and a smartphone app to help better communicate with customers about power outages during storms and provide information about how the utility is responding.

ComEd announced May 7 that it had a new color-coded map on its website that would allow customers to easily find clear information about power outages. The map, which is auto-updated every 30 minutes, provides details such as crew status and estimated power restoration time.

Presumably, customers who are experiencing a power outage and can’t access the map on their computers could still access the map with a battery-powered mobile device with a cellular data plan, such as an iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone or tablet.

The utility also announced a free mobile app for iPhone and Android smartphones that will help customers easily report power outages and check restoration status. The app can be downloaded from ComEd’s website or the Apple and Android app stores.


ComEd Adds Map, Mobile App to Storm Response Tools,” Bloomberg Businessweek, May 8, 2012.

How to Safely Use Your Furnace to Stay Warm in the Winter

Thursday February 2, 2012
Posted at 13:08

Tips for furnace safely during the winter

If you live in a cold part of the United States, you probably use a furnace to stay warm during the cold winter months. Unfortunately, too many people are unaware of the precautions that they need to take to safely operate their furnaces year in and year out. In fact, the Illinois Department of Public Health estimates that more than 8,000 Americans annually require emergency treatment for injuries associated with furnaces.

To help you avoid problems, here are a few precautions that you should take when using your furnace:

  • Move all flammable materials a safe distance away from the furnace, including things like papers, sawdust, old rags, wood scraps and liquids such as gasoline and kerosene. As an extra precaution, since vapors from flammable liquids easily ignite, you should store these liquids in containers that are tightly sealed.
  • Change or clean your furnace filter every month during the winter, or more often if you run your furnace a lot, smoke or have pets.
  • Have a professional inspect your furnace every year to make sure it’s working well and getting enough fresh air. Ensuring your furnace gets enough air will prevent it from burning improperly, which can end up reducing the oxygen in your home to dangerously low level.
  • Have a professional inspect your chimney and flue at least once a year and have them cleaned if necessary. Carbon monoxide levels in your home can become dangerous if smoke can’t escape a clogged chimney or flue. Additionally, built-up soot, which is highly flammable, can easily ignite and can send a fireball of flame from your furnace into your house.
  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home. Make sure to periodically test the alarms and change the batteries every year or more often if needed.


Illinois Department of Public Health, “Weathering Winter.”

ComEd Customers Can Now Receive Text Message Alerts for Outages

Monday January 30, 2012
Posted at 11:52

comed-text-message-alerts.jpgIf you live in Illinois and get your electricity delivered by ComEd, you can now get text message alerts on your cell phone to notify you of outages in your area and provide estimates of how long you’ll be without power.

Delivery customers of the utility — meaning anyone who receives electricity service in ComEd’s territory, regardless of whether electricity is bought from the utility or from an alternative retail electricity supplier — may opt in to the new program, which automatically sends text messages to customers in areas experiencing power losses. According to ComEd, texts will be sent out about 30 minutes after an outage is confirmed.

The first part of the outage notification service might be a little redundant while you’re at home, as you can imagine, but the real benefit is the follow-up texts that will let you know when a crew is dispatched to fix the problem and when you can expect to have power restored. You’ll also get a text if the restore time changes and a final text once power has been restored.

ComEd said it will send a maximum of seven texts per day to each customer. Here’s hoping you never need that many.

If you decide to opt in to the program, make sure you have a text messaging plan with your cell phone provider. The program itself is free but your carrier’s normal text messaging rates will still apply.

For more information or to sign up for the outage notification service, visit


ComEd Offers Outage Alerts Via Text,” Romeoville Patch, Jan. 12, 2012.

Turn Off Utilities After a Disaster to Avoid Charges

Wednesday September 14, 2011
Posted at 08:15

Hurricane Irene caused about $1.5 billion in destruction, destroying or damaging over 400 homes in Connecticut and 700 homes in Vermont. Numbers were even more overwhelming in North Carolina where 1,100 homes were destroyed or damaged, according to Governor Beverly Perdue, and in many other states along the eastern seaboard.

This week’s Texas wildfires continue to set records, razing hundreds of homes and tens of thousands of acres. More than 5,000 people have evacuated to avoid the flames and the 16-mile-wide wildfire in Bastrop County in Central Texas is the worst wildfire in Texas history. The wildfire will likely destroy additional homes as the number of homes destroyed across the state tops 1,000.

What to Do After a Disaster

More deaths typically occur after a hurricane than during one, so be extremely careful when returning home after any natural disaster and only do so after authorities have deemed your area safe. Have a qualified electrician or technician inspect the wiring in your home, reconnect utilities and relight pilot lights if you do not know how to safely do so.

In the case of a total loss of your home, or in the case of an extended stay away from your home due to severe damage, be sure to alert your utility company and your energy service company or ESCO (also known as a retail electric provider or REP). Even if local officials, police officers and firefighters may know that your home was destroyed, your utility company may continue to bill your account for “estimated usage,” or usage estimated in accordance with your typical usage patterns, whether or not you’re living in your home.

“A lot of customers assume that the utility company knows that the electric account will just close since the home was destroyed. That is not the case – they need to call in,” says Rachel Rodriguez, customer service manager for Spark Energy. Rodriguez says that a retail electric company can submit requests on behalf of customers to the utility to electronically notify them to stop service to the residence in case the customer is unable to reach the utility company directly.

Once everything is shut off, an inspector from the county or city will need to inspect the premises to be sure it’s safe to begin rebuilding. At that time, you’ll need to call your utility to set up a temporary meter for your contractor’s needs. Check with your county or city government on what types of inspections are required to begin rebuilding and to move back in. Once the home is inspected and passed, you’ll need to contact the utility to set up permanent service and you’ll be able to select an ESCO or REP.

Special Disaster Assistance

If you’re a Spark Energy customer, we’ll be happy to help accommodate your needs after a natural disaster. We understand that it can be a stressful time and will do everything we can to help make your transition as smooth as possible. If you’ve been displaced because of a natural disaster, please contact our customer service department and we can take your situation into account and help you accordingly, whether you need to relocate temporarily or permanently.

Additional Resources

We’ve compiled a list of utilities in the Houston area and Central Texas in case you need to contact your utility company. Please note that Spark Energy is unable to assist non-Spark Energy customers with move-outs or customers not within our service area. We are also unable to assist customers with permitting, inspection, or rebuilding – please contact your local government or insurance company for that information. The information below is provided for your convenience.

Spark Energy Customer Service:

East Coast Utility Contact Info for Hurricane Irene Areas:

Houston-Area Utilities:

- CenterPoint Energy:

- Texas-New Mexico Power-TNMP:

- American Electric Power-AEP Texas:

- Entergy Texas (Not in Spark Energy Service Area):

  • Area: Bryan/College Station, Navasota, Hempstead, Magnolia, The Woodlands, Conroe, Liberty, Cleveland, Huntsville, Beaumont, Port Arthur and east to the Louisiana border
  • Customer Service and Emergencies: 800.ENTERGY (800.368.3749)
  • Report Outage: 1.800.9OUTAGE (800.968.8243)
  • Twitter:
  • Website:

- San Bernard Electric Cooperative-SBEC (Not in Spark Energy Service Area):

Houston-Area Permitting and Construction Information:

- Harris County Public Infrastructure Department:

- Montgomery County Environmental Health & Permitting:

- Grimes County Environmental Permits:

- Waller County Permitting and Construction:

Central Texas Utilities (Not in Spark Energy Service Area):

- Austin Energy:

- Bastrop Power & Light:

Central Texas Permitting and Construction:

- City of Austin Building Permits:

- Bastrop County Permits:


Governor, Feds Vow to Rebuild Irene-Damaged Conn.,” – Houston Chronicle, September 5, 2011.

Vt. Gov Seeks Vacation Homes for Flood Victims,” – Associated Press, September 6, 2011.

Schumer Tours Irene Damage, Promises Fight for FEMA Aid,”, September 5, 2011.

Hurricane Irene Relief Fund Estimated at $1.5bn,” – Guardian, September 6, 2011.

Irene Destroyed More Than 1,100 Homes, N.C. Governor Says,” Associated Press, August 30, 2011.

Disastrous Texas Wildfire Now Worst in State's History,” Time, September 6, 2011.

Electricity Outage Contact Information

Thursday August 25, 2011
Posted at 16:07

To assist areas that may be affected by Hurricane Irene, we've compiled the following list of utility contact information. Contact your utility company, not your electric supplier, to report an outage. Utility systems can locate generalized outages, but you should report your specific outage to help pinpoint areas with the most need. (UPDATE: Click here for a separate post we're updating with the latest news on Irene, including maps and stats.)

If you would like to see information added to this list, leave a note in the comment thread below.

(NOTE: Print this list out for reference in case you lose power! )

New England:

Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) All non-UI Areas in Connecticut
Report Outage: 1-800-286-2000

Report Outage Online:
Storm Center:
Outage Map:
Follow on Twitter:
Get Mobile Updates: Text “outage” and your zip code to 24612

United Illuminating (UI) New Haven and Bridgeport, CT
Report Outage: 1-800-7CALL-UI or 203-499-3333
Storm Center:
Outage Map:
Follow on Twitter:
If you need additional assistance, please call Connecticut's toll-free Infoline, 2-1-1

National Grid – Western Mass
Report Gas Emergency: 1-800-892-2345
Report Power Outage (New England): 1-800-465-1212
Storm Center:
Outage Map:
Follow on Twitter:

NSTAR – Cape Cod/South Shore Area
Report Outage: 800-592-2000
Storm Center:


PECO - Philadelphia, PA
Report Outage: 1-800-841-4141
Mobile Outage Reporting:
View Mobile Outage Info:
Outage Map:
Storm Center:

PPL Electric Utilities – Harrisburg, Lancaster, Williamsport, Hazleton, Scranton, Bethlehem, PA
Report Outage: 1-800-DIAL-PPL
Report Outage Online:
Outage Map:
Storm Center:


Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) – Baltimore, MD
Report Outage: 1-877-778-2222
Outage Map:
Storm Center:
Follow on Twitter:

Delmarva Power – Delmarva Peninsula (Maryland and Delaware)
Natural Gas Outages: 302-454-0317
NCCo, Cecil, Harford Power Outages: 1-800-898-8042
Kent, Sussex, Eastern Shore Power Outages: 1-800-898-8045
Outage Map:
Storm Center:
Follow on Twitter:

Allegheny Power – Western Maryland
Report Outage: 1-800-Allegheny (1-800-255-3443)
Outage Center:
Outage Map:

Potomac Electric Power Co (PEPCO) – Washington DC and Maryland
Report Outages: 1-877-PEPCO-62
Report Outage Online:
Storm Center:
Outage Map:

New York/New Jersey:
ConEdison – New York City
Report Outage: 1-800-75-CONED
Report Outage Online:
Storm Center:
Outage Map:

National Grid – Long Island, Upstate New York
Report Gas Emergency: 1-800-892-2345
Report Power Outage (New York): 1-800-867-5222
Report Power Outage (New England): 1-800-465-1212
Storm Center:
Outage Map:
Follow on Twitter:

PSE&G – Central Jersey
Report Outage: 1-800-436-PSEG
Report Outage Online:
Outage Center:
Outage Map:
Follow on Twitter:

Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) – Central Jersey
Report Outages: 1-888-LIGHTSS (1-888-544-4877
Report Outage Online:
Outage Map:

Orange & Rockland Electric Company – NW New York City Suburbs and Northern New Jersey
Report Gas Leak: 1-800-533-5325
Report Power Outage: 1-877-434-4100
Report Outage Online:
Outage Map:

Atlantic City Electric – South Jersey
Report Outage: 1-800-833-7476
Storm Center:
Outage Map:
Follow on Twitter:

Getting Prepared for Hurricane Irene

Thursday August 25, 2011
Posted at 16:00

Hurricane Irene is forecast to hit Category 3 or 4 when it makes landfall in North Carolina on Saturday evening. Check this post for updates.

UPDATE 8/26: Stats on Irene as of 2:00 p.m. EDT:

Sustained winds: 10 mph
Wind Gusts: 125 mph
Latitude: 31.2N
Longitude 77.5W
Pressure: 951.00mb
Movement: North at 14mph
Located: 300 mi SSW of Cape Hatteras, NC

Stats on Irene as of 10:00 a.m. EDT:

Sustained winds: 105 mph
Wind Gusts: 125 mph
Latitude: 30.7N
Longitude 77.3W
Pressure: 946.00mb
Movement: North at 14mph
Located: 212 mi SE of Charleston, SC

ComEd in Chicago is already sending crews to Philadelphia in advance of the storm to help sister utility PECO with expected outages.


The projected path for Hurricane Irene sets it on course to hit the East Coast from North Carolina to New England this weekend, marking the strongest storm to hit the Northeast in two decades. This morning, the National Hurricane Center said that Irene is “forecast to become a larger than average hurricane,” and is now a Category 3 storm. (UPDATE: NOAA map of Irene is here.)

High winds are expected to impact Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York City, Albany, Boston, and much of New England. Winds could be strong enough to cause structural damage in areas closest to the storm, but downed trees and power outages could be widespread and should be expected. Rhode Island as well as the Eastern halves of Long Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts are at the greatest risk of tornado threats.

Philadelphia and New York City can expect to break rainfall records for the month, and heavy rain should be expected from Washington DC through New England.

What You Should Do

Before the storm:

  • Have several flashlights and extra batteries available. Candles can pose a fire danger – flashlights are much safer! Also have a battery powered radio available to stay updated on news.
  • Pack a hurricane emergency kit including at least a 3-day water supply for each person (1 gal per person per day), non-perishable food, and a first aid kit. Include baby or pet supplies if applicable.
  • Bring in anything that can be picked up by the wind including lawn furniture, bicycles, etc.
  • Turn your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings (be sure to check your manual) and keep them closed as much as possible so food can last longer.
  • Fill up your gas tank and take out some cash. Electrically powered gas pumps and ATMs are unlikely to work in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
  • Be sure to locate copies of important documents, medication lists, proof of address, deeds, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies.
  • Turn off and unplug sensitive electronics to prevent possible damage: television and stereo equipment, game consoles, and computer equipment.
  • Stay tuned on the radio and TV to find out if there are any evacuation orders for your area. Plan routes to shelters, and turn off utilities if instructed by authorities. Turn off or remove propane tanks.
  • Register special medical needs family members with local authorities in case of evacuation or extended electrical outage.
  • More tips from FEMA here.

During the storm:

  • Continue listening to the radio or TV for information.
  • Fill the bathtub or other large containers with water for sanitary purposes such as bathing or flushing toilets. Localized water pumps may lose power.
  • Stay indoors and away from windows and doors. Close interior doors, brace external doors in case of extreme winds.
  • Keep curtains and blinds closed.
  • Do not go outside if the storm seems to have passed – it could be the eye of the storm!
  • Take refuge in a small interior room or closet on the lowest level of your home.
  • More tips from FEMA here.

After the storm:

  • Stay away from downed wires, damaged or exposed electrical equipment, or trees or tree limbs in contact with wires or electrical equipment. Live wires do not necessarily look like they may be energized, so please stay away from such wires and report to your utility.
  • Be careful when cleaning up your property to keep pool nets, tree trimmers, ladders and other equipment far from power lines.
  • Generators should never be wired into your home’s circuitry. Any equipment needed to run on a generator (refrigerator, pumps, fans) should be plugged into the generator directly. Also, be sure to operate the generator in accordance with manufacturer guidelines, and in a well ventilated area!
  • Keep your refrigerator closed as much as possible. Move meats, dairy, etc into the freezer to stay colder longer. A partially full freezer can keep food frozen up to 24 hours, and about 48 hours if completely full.
  • Call your utility to report an electric outage. See our list here on how to do so.
  • More info from the Red Cross here.


"Hurricane Irene: Major Northeast Threats" -, August 25, 2011.

"CL&P Says It's Preparing for the Worst and Hoping For The Best" - Ridgefield Press, August 25, 2011.

"Red Cross Hurricane Safety Checklist" - Red Cross.

"Hurricane Irene New York: Mayor Bloomberg Warns of Possible Evacuations" - International Business Times, August 25, 2011.

"PSE&G Prepares for Hurricane Irene" - Marketwatch, August 25, 2011.

"Agencies Tell Residents to Prepare for the Threat of Hurricane Irene" - Carroll County Times, August 24, 2011.

Who to Call When the Power Goes Out in Texas

Friday June 10, 2011
Posted at 08:14

Who to call if the power goes out after a hurricane in Texas

Whenever you lose power, it’s important to know who to call to report the problem. Many Texas consumers think you should report outages to the company that sends you your bill, your residential electric supplier; however, you actually need to report the outage to your electric utility. Your electric utility is responsible for reliability issues, such as power outages, downed power lines and maintenance.

Because hurricane season starts June 1, we put together a list of all the electric utility emergency contact numbers that Spark Energy customers in Texas can call if their power ever goes out, even in the event of a hurricane.

It might be best to print out this information and keep it handy. After all, if the power goes out, you won’t be able to come back to this webpage for the information.

Contacting Your Electric Utility

If you don’t know who your electric utility is, find your electric bill and look for “Local Distribution Company.” Your electric utility is identified here. The following emergency numbers should be there as well, but we’ve also listed them here for your convenience.

Oncor - 888-313-4747

TNMP - 888-866-7465

Customers in TNMP’s service area are encouraged to select option 2 when they call in order to hear a recorded message about known power outages. Customers who don’t hear a message about their power outage should select option 1 to be transferred to an agent who will record their information.


For power outages: 800-332-7143 or 713-207-2222

For downed power lines: 713-207-2222

AEP Texas (AEP Texas Central Company and AEP Texas North Company)

Customers in AEP Texas’ service areas — which include customers of AEP Texas Central Company and AEP Texas North Company — are asked not to call the utility in case of a major storm, such as a hurricane. According to the utility’s website:

“In the immediate aftermath of a major storm, we ask that you call only to report safety hazards such as downed power lines or equipment that is sparking. During major storms, our telephone lines can become overloaded with customer calls. In these situations, we are aware of major damage to long-distance transmission lines and distribution circuits.”

For downed power lines and other safety hazards: 866-223-8505

For power outages not the result of a major storm: go online at

3 Steps for Dealing with a Power Outage From a Hurricane

Thursday June 9, 2011
Posted at 08:15

Preparating for a hurricane takes planningHurricane season is right around the corner and that means it’s time to think about preparing for the possibility of being unable to get power from your electric company for a while. Here are three simple steps for making sure you can deal with a power outage — before the lights go out.

1. Create a Disaster Supply Kit

The first thing you should do to prepare for being without power during a hurricane is create a disaster supply kit. You can keep it in your garage or somewhere near your car in case you have to evacuate. Make a list of the following items and then cross them off as you add them to your kit:

- Water — At least one gallon of bottled drinking water per day per person, for seven days. For a family of four, that’s 28 gallons.
- Food — You need to buy enough non-perishable foods (canned foods, juices, snacks) to last for seven days. Make sure to include foods for infants and the elderly; a non-electric can opener; cooking tools and fuel, including plastic utensils, paper plates and bowls; and if you’re ambitious, a stove for cooking.
- Medicine — Make sure you have a first aid kit, an ample supply of any prescription medications, some extra bandages and antibiotic spray or ointment.
- Papers — Gather copies of important documents — things like driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, insurance papers, proof of residence, wills, deeds, birth and marriage certificates — and seal them safe inside a waterproof container, like a Ziploc bag or waterproof safe. Include road maps of the city and state you live in, as well as a map that includes surrounding states.
- Hygiene — Get a large Ziploc bag and fill it with toiletries, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, moist wipes, mouthwash, soap, shampoo, razor and shaving gel or electric razor, feminine hygiene supplies and anything else you may need to keep clean.
- Flashlights, Candles, Matches and Extra Batteries — Include a couple of high-power flashlights in your disaster supply kit, along with some candles that you can burn at night in order to save batteries. Make sure you have extra matches for the candles and extra batteries for the flashlights.
- Cell Phones and Radio — Keep your cell phone charged and buy an extra battery and charge it too, just in case. Also, buy a battery-operated radio and keep it and several extra batteries in your kit.
- Tools — Make sure you have a good travel-size tool set just in case you need to fix anything.
- Clothing, Blankets and Pillows — Keep several days’ worth of clothing in your kit, as well as a few blankets and pillows.
- Cash — Consider keeping a couple hundred dollars in your kit so you’ll have it if you need it. When the power goes out, ATMs won’t work.
- Pet Care Items — If you have pets, you need to include identification and immunization papers; food and water for at least seven days; muzzle or leash; carrier or cage; and anything else you might need in case of a power outage or evacuation.

2. Prepare Your Home

Once you’ve completed your disaster supply kit, the next thing you need to do is prepare your home for being without power. Just like you did for your disaster relief kit, make a list of the following tasks and cross them off when you complete them:

- Water — Clean all the bathtubs and sinks in your home and then fill them with water. You’ll be able to use this water for taking sponge baths and for filling toilets for flushing. If you keep the water clean, and don’t bathe directly in it, you could also use it for drinking water if your seven-day supply of bottled water runs out. Consider buying several additional five-gallon containers of water to supplement your bathing and bathroom needs.
- Fuel — Keep your cars’ gas tanks full in case of extended power outages or in case you need to evacuate and need to get on the roadways. Gas will be hard to find in town and far outside of town along evacuation routes as well once a storm hits. Consider filling a few five-gallon fuel tanks and taking them with you to extend the range of your car.
- Refrigerators and Freezers — Turn your refrigerator and freezer thermostats to their coldest settings and keep the doors closed as much as possible.

3. Develop a Plan to Go Where the Power Is

In case your electricity may be out for a while, or you’re instructed to evacuate, make sure you have a place to go — preferably one with power. Here are a few suggestions:

- Make sure your family has a way to contact one another in case you’re separated when a storm strikes and the power goes out.
- Arrange for a place to meet in your neighborhood, or at a family residence or another location further inland, such as a motel, that is more likely to have uninterrupted power.
- Designate an out-of-town family or friend to serve as a point of contact in case it becomes easier to make long distance calls than to call across town.


Ready America (FEMA) website, “Hurricanes.”

National Hurricane Center website, “Hurricane Preparedness: Be Prepared.”