COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A new report by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio details what went wrong when more than 600,000 AEP Ohio customers lost power during some of the hottest days of 2022.

Commission staff described a perfect storm that left families in the dark for more than two days in June, after a derecho plowed through central Ohio.

The storm, the report said, caused trees to come into contact with power lines and cause damage to multiple circuits, causing some outages. As a result, circuits that were still intact took on the extra load from the damaged circuits.

When 90-plus degree temperatures followed the storm and customers cranked up their air conditioning, the circuits that were still online overloaded. PUCO found that AEP was left with little choice but to cut power in some areas to prevent further damage to the grid.

“Although staff’s review found that during the event the company adhered to the laws and rules in the state, followed its approved emergency plan, and responded appropriately in its recovery actions from the storm, it is the expectation of staff, per the findings in this report, that additional diligence regarding right-of-way vegetation management and better customer communication by the company will assist in addressing the after effects of these weather occurrences,” the report concluded.

“Two days of power loss is a – it’s a tragedy to many families,” said Rep. Dontavius Jarrells, who spent time during the June outages passing out food and water to people in his Columbus district.

Jarrells, now the Assistant House Minority Leader, said he and other lawmakers have since met with AEP Ohio executives to hold them accountable.

“We had that conversation about communication and making sure that we were given up to date information to give out to our constituents, but also to the constituents – what can be done better?” Jarrells said.

Since last year’s storm, Jarrells said AEP begun alerting lawmakers’ offices if a storm or planned outage is approaching, so that they can help vulnerable people in their own districts. According to Jarrells, that plan worked well during the winter storm that affected Ohio on Christmas Eve.

“We’re much further than where we were when the initial power outage happened last summer,” Jarrells said. “I think the biggest thing of all for me is making sure that we are looking at what upgrades we need to make to our system.”

The PUCO report found that a lack of investment in the electrical grid system did not contribute to the June power outages.

The report also states, “The number of customers, the type of customers (residential, commercial, or industrial), and the specific location of the customers are not readily available to the (AEP Ohio) operations team and are not considered” in decisions regarding when or where to cut power.

In an emailed statement to NBC4, AEP Ohio wrote:

“Every employee at AEP Ohio understands the importance of providing reliable electric service to our customers. The PUCO staff report confirms what we learned through our own review of the June 13-15 outages. Severe storms caused extensive damage to our electric transmission system and the extreme heat that followed caused several lines to overload. This required us to take emergency forced outages to protect the power grid, which included taking power lines that fed parts of Columbus out of service.

“Our response over the last few months has been to more aggressively trim trees, do more inspections of our electric lines using advanced imaging technology, and meet with members of the most impacted communities to understand how we can better meet their expectations of us. We have trimmed back hundreds of miles of vegetation, fixed any damage or hazards we discovered, and are developing stronger relationships our community partners. We appreciate the thoroughness of the PUCO staff and will continue to work with them to further improve our emergency response processes for customer communication.

“We understand the significant impact of power outages for our customers and are committed to preparing for and responding to future severe weather events in a proactive and diligent manner.”

The Ohio Office of Consumers’ Counsel is still calling for a full investigation into the June outages, telling NBC4 that while the office appreciates PUCO’s report, questions remain.

“What’s missing is a public process for consumers where their advocates, such as the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel and others, can gather information and then question AEP and PUCO witnesses under oath about the outages,” said J.P. Blackwood, a spokesperson for the OCC. “A lot of questions remain. Questions include learning more about the adequacy of AEP’s plans for preventing outages due to trees contacting wires. And, with AEP’s charges to consumers for tree-trimming, why weren’t the results of AEP’s plans more protective against outages?”

AEP opposed the OCC’s motion for an investigation, filed after the outages along with other consumer advocacy groups. In its filing, the utility argues it was not negligent in its handling of the event.