- The New York Public Service Commission (PSC) has completed an investigation into utility storm responses following Tropical Storm Isaias in August, and is recommending three utilities face more than $137 million in penalties and the possible loss of operating licenses for Consolidated Edison (ConEd) and Orange & Rockland (O&R).
- Some customers were without power for about a week following the storm, and the PSC's expedited investigation concluded utilities failed to follow commission-ordered emergency response plans.
- ConEd could face fines of $102.3 million for 33 apparent violations; the utility said it is still reviewing the PSC's findings and plans to respond. O&R faces a potential $19 million penalty for 38 apparent violations. Central Hudson faces $16 million in fines for 32 apparent violations, but said it followed its emergency plan and will show "why these penalties should not be assessed."
In total, New York regulators have recommended fines or corrective action for four utilities — and all four say they are committed to improving storm response.
The PSC does not regulate PSEG Long Island, but the New York Department of Public Service (DPS) has made recommendations to the Long Island Power Authority Board of Trustees that include possibly finding a new grid operator.
According to the DPS, the initial investigation showed that ConEd's response to the storm "was wholly inadequate" and that the utility "apparently failed to follow" its commission-ordered emergency response plan's requirements relating to its damage assessment responsibilities, and its published estimated time of restoration notices.
Citing "prior instances" where ConEd's storm responses had fallen short of legal requirements, DPS said it would also consider whether the utility's certificate of public convenience and necessity "should or should not be revoked."
In an emailed statement, ConEd highlighted its response efforts and said that following Isaias it restored power to more than 300,000 customers. The utility said it will review the DPS findings and respond, "while continuing to improve our storm response and maintaining our industry-leading reliable service."
ConEd said its Isaias response included mobilizing more than 2,200 additional restoration workers, and that the utility "issued estimated service restoration times to nearly all customers who were out of service for more than 48 hours and communicated via our outage map, briefings with government leaders, social media, texts, e-mails and dozens of press releases and interviews."
DPS also concluded that O&R did not follow its response plan requirements relating to pre-storm crewing assessments. Similar to ConEd, staff said its investigation of O&R would include the determination of whether its certificate "should not be revoked based on these apparent violations as well as O&R's prior failures to adequately prepare and respond to emergencies."
O&R faces a potential $19 million penalty for 38 apparent violations, according to DPS. The utility, owned by Consolidated Edison Inc., sent out a statement similar to its sister utility's that said it "will review and respond" to the commission's decision, and also described its customer communication efforts. O&R said Isaias caused 140,000 customers to lose power.
For Central Hudson, DPS said the investigation showed apparent failures related to its damage assessment responsibilities as well as internal website failures. But Central Hudson appears committed to defending its response.
"We are reviewing the order regarding the state's findings on utility storm performance and the proposed penalties, and we look forward to the opportunity to show cause as to why these penalties should not be assessed," the utility said in an emailed statement.
"Central Hudson followed its state-approved storm plan and met all requirements in assessing and addressing storm damage as well as securing adequate crews, including internal line personnel, contractors performing utility work in our service area and line and tree crews from outside of our area," the utility said.
Central Hudson said Isaias was was one of the most severe storms to impact its territory, yet power was restored to 98% of impacted customers in three days, "and our communications were robust, consistent and timely."
Utilities have 10 days to reply to the PSC recommendations on how to improve their storm response and restoration efforts, and 30 days to reply to potential penalties.
PSEG Long Island was also a subject of regulators' investigation, and the DPS recommended enforcement actions to the Long Island Power Authority Board of Trustees, which oversees PSEG's operation of the Long Island grid. The initial investigation found apparent failures related to damage assessment, the utility's outage management system, restoration estimates and more.
The DPS said it provided LIPA the results of its investigation and recommendations on proposed actions and remedies, including potentially terminating PSEG's contract to operate the Long Island grid.
PSEG Long Island, in a statement said it is "carefully reviewing recommendations" from LIPA and the DPS and the utility is "committed to continuous improvement, transparency and accountability."