The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today heard from the state’s electric utilities whose distribution systems were affected by Hurricane Irene as part of a Special Electric Reliability Forum.
“This was a history-making storm with severe weather that lasted over several days,” said Commission Chairman Robert F. Powelson. “It was important for the affected electric utilities and the PUC to come to the table and examine what went well as customer service was restored and what did not go well. We hope the information shared during this forum will allow us to provide additional direction to the utilities to ensure service is restored promptly and consumers are receiving useful information during outages.”
The participating electric utilities all reported that Hurricane Irene was one of the worst storms to hit their service territories – both in numbers of customers who were without power as well as the duration of the storm and outages.
The presentations from the forum are available on the PUC website. The PUC’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Dan Searfoorce summarized the events related to Hurricane Irene, the overall magnitude of the statewide outages and the role of the PUC as it related to these outages. Operational personnel from the following electric utilities also participated in the forum: the FirstEnergy Companies (Metropolitan Edison Co. and Pennsylvania Electric Co.); PECO Energy Co.; PPL Electric Utilities Corp., UGI Utilities Inc., and Pike County Light & Power.
In general, the participating electric utilities reported the following successes:
· Crews working in the field remained safe while working to restore power
· Pre-staging of additional line crews and pre-planning including drills allowed for more
· Existing mutual aid agreements that allowed for cooperation from crews outside of the
utility were valuable.
In general, the participating electric utilities also reported the following lessons learned:
· Improvements are needed for phone systems handling customer phone calls.
· A need exists for increased use of technology for customer notification such as e-mail,
mobile–friendly web access and social media.
· Better weather forecasting is needed.
Hurricane Irene hit the east coast on Aug. 27, 2011, bringing with it high winds and heavy rain. At the height of the storm, about 768,000 customers were without power, while overall there were more than 1.3 million customer outages throughout the storm. Pennsylvania has about 5.6 million electric customers. Some customers remained without power for up to 10 days.
On Sept. 22, 2011, the Commission also approved a final rulemaking designed to improve utility responses to large-scale outages. The goal of the rulemaking is to have even more effective responses to unscheduled outages for electric, natural gas, water, wastewater and telephone utilities and establish a uniform approach for reporting standards among industries in the event of utility service outages.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission balances the needs of consumers and utilities to ensure safe and reliable utility service at reasonable rates; protect the public interest; educate consumers to make independent and informed utility choices; further economic development; and foster new technologies and competitive markets in an environmentally sound manner. For recent news releases, audio of select Commission proceedings or more information about the PUC, visit our website at www.puc.state.pa.us.
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