UTILITIES GET SLAPPED BY STATE INVESTIGATION INTO 2018 STORM RESPONSES BUT NO MENTION OF THE CREWS IN PUERTO RICO

Posted: April 22, 2019

Last Thursday, the Department of Public Service (DPS) released its report from their investigation into utility companies’ responses to multiple storms that occurred last year. The report, adopted by the Public Service Commission (PSC), revealed 43 potential violations against the various utility companies, the bulk of them attributed to NYSEG, ConEdison, and Orange & Rockland Utilities.  The report also provided a series of 94 recommendations to improve emergency preparedness and response.

Assemblyman Kevin Byrne was one of the few state representatives to participate in both Senate and Assembly public hearings, as well as the public statement hearings organized by DPS to discuss the storm response by various utilities. Byrne also serves as a member of the United Westchester Executive Committee, a nonpartisan group of local, Westchester County, New York State and federal elected officials working together to find solutions to prevent and better respond to storms. United Westchester is co-chaired by Westchester County Executive George Latimer and Assemblyman David Buchwald (AD93).  

After reviewing the report, Assemblyman Byrne had this to say,

“I’m pleased to see the report cited many of the concerns expressed by people who were on the frontlines after these storms hit. This includes the statements of hundreds of residents and elected officials from all levels of government during the public statement hearings, as well as mentioning the Senate & Assembly hearings and United Westchester report. Within the 170 page report, the Department of Public Service referred to the United Westchester report twenty-eight times. That is a testament to the hard work so many people put into making United Westchester an effective advocate for the region in the wake of these devastating storms.”

Byrne continued,

“Of the many alleged violations and recommendations, I was pleased to see some of the key focuses for areas of improvement included greater staffing levels, communication enhancements, improved outage management systems, stronger planning for mutual assistance programs, more reliable estimated time restorations (ETRs) for customers, greater accountability and planning for critical facilities, hardening of infrastructure, as well as encouraging a stronger damaged tree trimming program through coordination with utility companies and local municipal leaders.”

Assemblyman Byrne added,

“While I am pleased overall with many of the recommendations in this report, I am also disappointed by one large omission.  In several sections of the report, utility companies were criticized for their staffing levels in various positions. The report even went so far to say that “utilities would have performed better at the start of restoration if they had more internal FTEs (Full Time Equivalents) available” (pp. 80). I agree with this statement; however, the report conspicuously left out any mention of the crews and/or equipment from these utilities that were absent in the early days of the storm because they were sent by Governor Cuomo and the New York Power Authority to Puerto Rico.  While this in itself may not have been the biggest contributor to response shortcomings, it certainly played a role and should have been mentioned. I know it was mentioned at various public hearings, because I was there.

Still, I do appreciate and respect the many days and long hours DPS, and so many others, put into this investigation.  There is still much work to do.”

According to the PSC, while the utilities have already adopted many of the recommendations since the storms, the PSC has also issued an order to show cause, initiating enforcement proceedings. Utility companies will have an opportunity to respond to the report’s findings, and then the PSC will be able to order the implementation of the recommendations with the force of law.

The three storms referenced in the DPS report that affected the Hudson Valley region were Winter Storm Riley on March 2, 2018, Winter Storm Quinn on March 7, 2018, and a severe thunderstorm/ tornado on May 15, 2018.

A copy of the Public Service Commission’s press release is accessible HERE

A copy of the Department of Public Service Report is accessible HERE

A copy of the United Westchester report is accessible HERE