58,000 workers are currently repairing power lines across the Mid-Atlantic in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. | Photo courtesy of the Energy Department

As President Obama made clear in a call with dozens of utility executives nationwide, restoring power to the millions of Americans who lost electricity during Hurricane Sandy is a top priority for the Obama Administration and the Department of Energy. More homes and businesses lost power during Sandy than any other storm in history, but progress is already being made to bring electricity back online.

As of 2 PM EDT today, utilities have restored power to nearly 2.4 million customers – a 28 percent decrease from the peak following the storm.

While the primary responsibility to restore power resides with the local utilities, the federal government has an important role to play in coordinating the federal response with state and local officials and the utility industry. The Energy Department, in partnership with the Federal Energy Management Administration (FEMA) and other federal agencies, is working around the clock to support the impacted states and utilities.

In addition to daily conference calls with utility executives and Secretary Chu, the federal government today launched an interagency taskforce on power restoration, based out of the FEMA National Response Coordination Center, which will help to facilitate this process. The team, which also includes an industry representative, is focused on eliminating any bureaucratic roadblocks or red tape that could delay utility teams in their efforts to restore power. The group is also focused on identifying specific steps or additional resources that could be helpful to get power back up as quickly as possible.

Utility companies from California to Canada and Mexico - and everywhere in between - are sending linemen, tree personnel and other utility staff to assist the effort. The federal power restoration team is working to facilitate the movement of these 58,000 workers, including by working with the Department of Transportation to issue the appropriate permits on weight requirements for utility trucks crossing state lines and developing new communications systems and an internal clearinghouse to help local and state law enforcement track the routes for utility teams coming into their states.

The Energy Department and other federal partners are also working to identify additional resources that could be of use. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deployed water pumps to a flooded Con Edison power substation in New York to help clear out the water – a necessary step before the station could be repowered. The Energy Department’s Western Area Power Administration is flying two of its helicopters to New Jersey to perform aerial damage assessment of the electric infrastructure in Jersey Central Power & Light’s service area.  And federal resources through the Department of Transportation and other partner agencies are also working with state and local authorities to ensure utility crews are able to reach the places where they are needed most. This includes plowing snow, or clearing fallen trees or other debris from the roads ahead of utility teams.

As the efforts to recover from the storm and restore power to millions of Americans continues in the days ahead, the Energy Department and its federal partners are focused on doing everything we can to support local utilities and workers.