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NYS PSC Investigating Utility Companies After Extended Outages During Recent Snowstorms

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Snow accumulates outside the WAMC Studios on Central Avenue in Albany, NY. March 14, 2017

It may be spring, but the recent snowstorms took their toll on utility companies across New York. Some customers were in the dark for days, and now the state Public Service Commission is investigating.

Storms that hit March 2nd and March 9th dealt electric companies and their customers a one-two punch. Central Hudson and National Grid are among seven utilities under the PSC's microscope. In all, more than 590,000 New York homes and businesses lost power at some point during the two Nor’easters.

On March 9th, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, on his Facebook page, called for the heads of Con Edison and NYSEG to resign as residents remained without power. "I'm not listening to corporate excuses."  Latimer, a Democrat, demanded utilities adopt "a new philosophy" when it comes to recovery efforts.  Con Edison issued a short statement affirming restoration was its priority.

Governor Andrew Cuomo was miffed that some homes and businesses went without power for up to 10 days. "While we've made progress, frankly the progress isn't good enough and it's not fast enough. John Rhodes, from the Public Service Commission, I'm going to direct to do a full review of how the utility companies handled the situation. I'm not satisfied. I think it's unacceptable."

Central Hudson spokesman John Maserjian:  "We think we did a good job restoring power to our customers for these last two Nor'easters that affected our area. The first storm was the fifth-most severe we've faced in 50 years, the second the 10th-most severe. Following the first storm we restored service to about half of our affected customers within the first 24 hours and to all of customers before the arrival of the second storm. And with the second storm, we restored service to more than 60 percent of affected customers within the first 24 hours and to all our customers within three days, so, we feel we did a good job in restoring service timely and also staying in communication with our customers."

Maserjian says Central Hudson is ready to respond when another storm due Wednesday rolls in. National Grid is also mobilizing. Utility spokesman Nathan Stone was unavailable for comment, emailing that he was "in a mandated  storm meeting." The utility previously issued a statement in response to the PSC probe: "Post-storm reviews are a standard part of our emergency procedures, and we’d be happy to share whatever information is requested by the Public Service Commission."

  • UPDATE: Stone offered comment Tuesday afternoon: “With every other inquiry from the PSC you know it’s standard practice to review restoration times. We more than happily submit our information to the PSC for review, and we have always done that.”

Central Hudson is conducting its own internal review, according to Maserijian. "We file a plan with the state Public Service commission, a storm emergency plan, that we update each year. This plan is reviewed by regulators and approved. We refine the plan based on experiences we've had in prior storms. This plan covers nearly all aspects of restoration, including securing mutual aid crews form outside the areas to assist, how we communicate with our customers, how we stay in touch with our municipal officials and emergency responders, and the various roles that all of our employees play in responding to storm emergencies."

The PSC investigation also involves Orange and Rockland Utilities, Public Service Enterprise Group Long Island and Rochester Gas and Electric.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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