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Utilities sued over 2018 storm response

ALBANY, NY — The New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) has initiated legal action against New York State Electric & Gas Corporation (NYSEG), Orange and Rockland Utilities (O&R) and other electric companies over their responses to the various snow and wind storms in March, April and May of 2018.

A report by the Department of Public Service (DPE) “resulted in 77 recommendations for NYSEG to implement in its Emergency Response Plan (ERP) and provides a basis for Department of Public Service staff’s conclusion that NYSEG potentially violated its ERP on 20 separate occasions throughout the 2018 winter and spring storms.”

The report was particularly hard on NYSEG and found that the company did not have sufficient resources “to effectively conduct damage assessment, failed to appropriately contact all its Life-Support Equipment (LSE) customers, as well as failed to disseminate critical information through various available avenues of communication to its customers, the media and affected municipalities.”

The report says this is not the first time PSC has been concerned with NYSEG’s performance. It was also questioned after Superstorm Sandy and after a 2017 windstorm.  In fact, on the day PSC issued the order to initiate the legal proceeding, NYSEG and its sister company Rochester Gas and Electric (RG&E) agreed to pay a $3.9 million fine for a poor response to 2017 power outages. The settlement stipulates that NYSEG must spend its share of the fine, $1.1 million, to improve the resiliency of the system.

The report covers the aftermath of Winter Storm Riley which occurred on March 3, 2018, significantly impacting the lower Hudson Valley and Sullivan County, and resulting in outages of nearly 500,000 customers. On March 7, 2018 another significant event, Winter Storm Quinn, hit many of the same areas.  Many people in the western and southern parts of Sullivan County were without power for eight days or more, and the DPS report said that estimates about when power would be restored were inaccurate.

“An Estimated Time of Restoration (ETR) is the approximate date and time an electric utility expects service will be restored after a power outage. Customers depend on ETRs to make health and safety decisions, including determining the need for alternative accommodations, ensuring adequate resources and supplies are available during extended outages and addressing any medical needs.  Further, municipalities rely on ETRs to plan properly for the care and safety of their constituents and protection of property.” The reports said the ETRs were inaccurate and unacceptable.

The report further says, “NYSEG’s inability to respond and restore service to the satisfaction of its customers, governmental entities and the [PSC] is well documented and demonstrates a pervasive pattern of inadequate response and restoration performance. The apparent inability to sufficiently improve the company’s storm response and service restoration performance through implementation of, and adherence to, numerous repeated directives by the Commission is sufficient to warrant further Commission action.”

O&R is also part of the legal action, but the report does not criticize that company nearly as much as it does NYSEG.

 

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