Cuomo Warns Utilities, Penalizes PSEG-LI Over Storm Response

The state  issued PSEG-LI and other utilities a notice of apparent violation Wednesday for their response to Tropical Storm Isaias, which blasted across Long Island and other regions on Aug.4.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that state Department of Public Service has completed the first phase of its investigation into utility preparation and restoration efforts.

Altice-Optimum also received a notice.

The utilities could all face steep penalties and will have to correct deficiencies to prevent a repeat of similar problems during the remainder of the hurricane season.

Also warned were Con Edison, Orange & Rockland and Central Hudson.

PSEG-LI was also told it would not receive a $9 million incentive bonus.

DPS is still threatening to pursue franchise revocations for Con Edison and Orange & Rockland as well as termination of PSEG-LI’s contract with LIPA if the investigation deems it appropriate.

Cuomo told the Department of Financial Services to work with DPS to enhance its review of these utilities and maintain better monitoring. 

Cuomo will also propose legislation to expedite and clarify franchise revocation procedures. It will address questions including the ownership and transfer of assets such as substations, cables and trucks to ensure that the ratepayers who funded them are not charged again in the event of a new operator taking them over.

“The response to tropical storm Isaias by the electric utilities was completely unacceptable. Fifteen days later and we are still hearing complaints from families and businesses,” Cuomo said. “With many weeks remaining in the hurricane season, we do not have the luxury of time — utilities must act immediately to fix their broken storm response apparatus, and the Department of Public Service must act more swiftly to hold utilities accountable.” 

PSEG LI was cited for a failure of its outage management system, inaccurate communications and problems with its call center. Altice-Optimum apparently did not follow its emergency plan pertaining to generator deployment and communications protocols, among other failures.

DPS has also called on PSEG LI to forfeit its 2020 incentive compensation of approximately $10 million as a first step and to use the proceeds toward compensating families and small businesses who lost food and medicine as a result of the extensive outages, and PSEG LI has agreed to do so.

Peak power outages in New York State due to Tropical Storm Isaias reached approximately 920,000 customers, and approximately 1.3 million New York customers experienced power outages during the event. 

The State is directing the utilities to undertake several corrective actions, including:

  • Add crewing capacity via retainer contracts from private contractors or utilities located outside of New York, with a goal to be able to secure in advance of a storm double the level of internal linemen and tree crews;
  • Test capabilities at all command centers, call centers and back-up command centers to ensure capability to handle an event that affects 90 percent or more of their customers in their service territory and provide confirmation back to the Department regarding the results of this test within 10 days;
  • Refine coordination plans with municipalities tailored to each county (road clearing, local liaisons, etc.) and provide to the Department within 20 days a written confirmation from each county Emergency Operations Center that they understand and accept the plan; and
  • Update life support equipment and critical infrastructure lists to remove or add customers as identified during Tropical Storm Isaias and file such updated lists to the Department within 10 days.

The Department also cited several potential violations by Altice-Optimum’s storm response in the lower Hudson Valley and Long Island, including a failure to coordinate emergency response with local officials, communications failures, and insufficient generator capacity for their network. The Department letter demands that Altice-Optimum promptly remedy these issues and provides notice that the investigation will include a review of whether the company is in violation of the Commission’s 2016 order approving its acquisition of Cablevision.

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