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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  •  PUC Chairman: Positive story in Hurricane Sandy response  

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  • HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) Chairman Robert F. Powelson Nov. 15th testified before the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee that the efforts of utilities to restore service following Hurricane Sandy was well coordinated, but work continues to improve storm responses.
    "In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the story we have to tell is a positive one, with hundreds of thousands of customers having their power restored within a remarkably short period of time," said Commission Chairman Robert F. Powelson in his testimony. "However, the PUC is keenly aware of the inconvenience, and in some cases danger, people experience when their power goes out. Our agency takes very seriously its duty to ensure safe and reliable electricity service throughout the state and we are always striving to improve our storm response. Along these lines, in the coming months the PUC will continue our examination of the response to Hurricane Sandy and take any steps necessary to ensure the response to the next storm is even better."
    Hurricane Sandy hit Pennsylvania on Monday, October 29, 2012. At its peak, the storm left 1.2 million Pennsylvanians without power. Throughout the course of the event, 1.5 million Pennsylvanians lost power at one time or another. The hardest hit territories were UGI, PPL, PECO, Met-Ed, and Pike County Light & Power. Chairman Powelson called the state’s electric utilities reaction to the storm a "well-coordinated response to what turned out to be massive storm."
    "Despite the magnitude of the storm and the damage it caused, 90 percent of customers in Pennsylvania had their power restored by Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012," Chairman Powelson said. "Given the number of outages and the extent of the damage, this was an impressive feat."
    Chairman Powelson highlighted the differences between the electric utilities’ response in 2011 to Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, and the October snowstorm. In the last year, the PUC has taken several steps to ensure that storm response efforts continue to improve. In particular, the PUC issued a policy statement on improving communication during widespread outage event, amended our storm response regulations, held meetings with the utilities to discuss and encourage best practices, and issued several reports examining issues like restoration messaging and circuit outage data.
    Last year, the biggest complaint the PUC received was that the utilities failed to communicate well with their customers. During Hurricane Irene people had difficulty getting through to their utilities and, in some instances, the utilities gave inaccurate restoration times. To correct this issue, the PUC issued a policy statement in December 2011 that provided recommendations for improving the timeliness and effectiveness of notice to customers during outages. As a result, the PUC found that during Hurricane Sandy, the communication between the utilities and their customers was much better including an increased use of social media.
    The difference the PUC’s efforts made in improving the response to Hurricane Sandy is evident. Last year, Hurricane Irene caused fewer outages and less damage to the electric distribution system, and yet the restoration effort took almost as long. Approximately 750,000 Pennsylvanians lost power during Hurricane Irene, which is considerably fewer than the 1.5 million people who lost power at some point during Hurricane Sandy. Hurricane Sandy also caused almost twice the amount of damage in the PPL, PECO, and Med-Ed territories with respect to the number of poles, transformers, cross arms, and miles of wire in need of repair.
    Page 2 of 2 - HURRICANE IMPACT COMPARED:
    (Numbers of items needing to be replaced)
    Utility poles
    Sandy 1642
    Irene 845
    ---
    Miles of wire
    Sandy 328
    Irene 164
    ---
    Cross arms
    Sandy 5851
    Irene 3079
    ---
    Transformers
    Sandy 1268
    Irene 666
    ---
    The restoration effort for Hurricane Sandy was delayed until the high winds died down on Oct. 30, 2012," Chairman Powelson said. "Yet, four days after widespread restoration began for Hurricane Sandy, 90 percent of Pennsylvanians had power. By the morning of Nov. 8, 2012, nine days after the start of the restoration effort, 99 percent of Pennsylvanians had power. These statistics demonstrate that the efforts we have taken to improve our storm response are working."
    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, video and audio of select Commission proceedings or more information about the PUC, visit our website at www.puc.pa.gov.
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