PUC issues report on electric outages related to February ice storm


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The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) released its report providing detailed information about and action items related to electric distribution company (EDC) responses the ice storm that brought significant snow, ice and winds to Pennsylvania in February.

“Many things went well as utilities worked to restore power to more than 950,000 people who lost service during the February ice storms,” said PUC Chairman Robert F. Powelson. “However, we also know that some areas need to be improved as we prepare for the next event that results in a large number of customers experiencing power outages. We look forward to receiving the follow up reports from the utilities in September that will highlight the progress being made toward implementing these recommendations.”

The report contains information on actions taken by the PUC and utilities as well as ongoing steps. The report compiles and analyzes EDC data; examines complaints about the inability of customers to contact the EDC to report outages; and reviews a lack of specific restoration information.

The report also makes 11 recommendations to the EDCs to address many concerns. The PUC will follow up on all recommendations. The EDCs will report to PUC staff the progress or completion of all recommendations at a regularly-scheduled EDC best practice working group meeting scheduled for September 2014.

The recommendations include:
EDCs should continue to collaborate on a best practice for managing estimated restoration times (ETRs) provided to customers, especially during long-duration outages. Many customers expressed frustration with inaccurate or changed (longer duration) restoration estimates specifically when the EDCs have indicated a customer was restored when it was not the case. It is an ongoing problem within the industry.

EDCs should continue to enhance their web and mobile platforms, providing customers additional methods to report outages and learn outage status information.

EDCs should disseminate the available communication and information channels to customers in advance of any expected large-scale outage event as well as several times a year to remind customers where information can be accessed. Additionally, the main page of EDC websites should have a clear indicator of where outage information can be accessed.

EDCs should continue their cooperation and communication with county 911 centers and emergency management agencies (EMA) and continue to offer liaisons for expected large-scale outage events. EDCs should meet with each county at least yearly to discuss expectations on the liaison program, especially in regards to the expected capabilities of the EDC liaisons.

EDCs should give consideration to offering an operational-focused conference call solely for county EMAs.

EDCs should give consideration to opening customer care centers in particularly hard-hit areas during a long-duration outage event and should notify the local and state elected officials as well as the county EOCs when opening such centers.

EDCs should give consideration to providing township-level outage and restoration information to county EOCs and local elected officials.

The February 2014 ice storm had a significant impact on Pennsylvania and its electric distribution companies (EDCs). It was a complex weather system that primarily affected the southeastern portion of the state. The snow and ice caused more than 800,000 electric customer outages at the peak, which occurred at approximately 4 a.m. Feb. 5. More than 950,000 Pennsylvania electric customers experienced an outage at some point as a result of the storm. The majority of customers (93 percent of the peak) were restored by evening Feb. 9 and all customers were restored by Feb. 12.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission balances the needs of consumers and utilities; ensures safe and reliable utility service at reasonable rates; protects the public interest; educates consumers to make independent and informed utility choices; furthers economic development; and fosters new technologies and competitive markets in an environmentally sound manner.

For recent news releases and video of select Commission proceedings or more information about the PUC, visit www.puc.pa.gov. Follow the PUC on Twitter — @PA_PUC for all things utility. “Like” PAPowerSwitch on Facebook for easy access to information on electric shopping.

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