I recently wrote to the chair of the NYS Public Service Commission complaining about the recent Con Ed power outages that impacted over 4,000 residents. My suggestions –exploring options regarding the state/and/or utility purchase of generators that would be offered at discounts to consumers, and the loan, installation and use of generators, tree trimming, use of GPS by utility crews for better location information, undergrounding of overhead infrastructure, reimbursement for food and lodging for outages, practice drills, better communication and the use of the National Guard are below.
If you have additional suggestions or comments, please write to the NYS Public Service Commission. The commission is investigating the utilities’ preparation for and response to the March 2018 storms. Visit: www.dps.ny.gov.via. See letter from Secretary to the PSC below.
Your voice can make a difference! Please get involved and let the PSC know your concerns.
Public Service Commission
John B. Rhodes
Chair and Chief Executive Officer
Gregg C. Sayre
Diane X. Burman James S. Alesi
Deputy Chair and Executive Deputy
Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12223-1350 www.dps.ny.gov
Kathleen H. Burgess
Hon. Paul J. Feiner
Supervisor, Town of Greenburgh
177 Hillside Avenue
Greenburgh, NY 10607
April 3, 2018
Re: Matter 18-00618 - In the Matter of UtilityPreparation and Response to PowerOutages During the March 2018 WinterStorms.
Dear Supervisor Feiner:
On behalf of Chair John B. Rhodes, thank you for your letter of March 20, 2018, in which you offer various suggestions designed to minimize the impact of future power outages. Such suggestions relate to, among other things, exploring options regarding the State and/or utility purchase of generators that would be offered at discounts to consumers; and the loan, installation and use of generators; tree trimming; use of GPS by utility crews for better location information; the undergrounding of overhead infrastructure;reimbursement for food and lodging for outages exceeding two days;practice drills between the utilities and the public sector; better communication and more accurate information regarding poweroutages; and an increased use of National Guard members in the powerrestoration process.
As you may know, the Department of Public Service has commenced,at the direction of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, a proceeding to investigate the utilities' preparation for and response to the March 2018 storms. Documents and comments regarding this matter, as it proceeds, may be accessed on or submitted to the Department's website (www.dps.ny.gov) via the matter number noted above.
I appreciate your taking the time to provide these suggestions and comments, and I note that as a part of this review, they have been included among those submitted in this matter, and thus will be part of the record considered by the Department as it continues its investigation.
Since the last Con Ed power outage I have been in contact with numerous officials and residents trying to come up with recommendations and action plans to minimize the possibility of quality of life disruptions to residents after the next major storm and power outages. Here are some thoughts
More aggressive attention with tree pruning around power lines, dead and alive near wires. Proactive trimming of trees so that they do not blow over. A suggestion was made in a letter to the editor by Art Gunther, former editorial page editor of the Rockland issue of the Journal News that Con Ed should begin an aggressive program to remove every tree in a utility right of way, replacing with low rise species. Encourage property owners to take down trees near the right of way. This could be cheaper than after storm restoration.
There were lots of large trees that came down and blocked roads on main and side streets. The town has been working with Con Ed during the past 10 years on an aggressive tree trimming program and cutting program to remove potential threats. Significant dollars are appropriated annually for this initiative. We should be more aggressive. One thought: Organize, with civic associations, neighborhood walking tours with Con Ed -the community, officials and Con Ed would see what’s really dead or on the way. Let's be proactive. Should point out that in the past whenever Con Ed tries cutting or trimming trees near wires--residents who live near the trees object. We can't have it both ways.
Homeowners who have privately owned trees on private property that are in danger of falling over wires should be required to trim their trees. Perhaps, Con Ed or NYS should provide financial help to those owners that have trees that need trimming. Penalties should be imposed on homeowners who refuse to cut or trim a tree on their property that is danger of falling after being contacted.
Con Ed should provide educational materials on how to identify such trees that are in danger of falling.
Frequent inspections of trees/poles where there is a history of prolonged power outages by Con Ed during year.
Can Con Ed use sonic technology to test the hollowness of a tree in order to decide it’s safety to homes and infrastructures?
Con Ed, the county or state should negotiate deep discounts for the purchase of generators and could purchase them in bulk. NYS should offer tax credits and or affordable monthly payments ot make it easier for people to purchase generators. Con Ed could offer a service to customers- installing generators and maintaining them during outages. This could be helpful for seniors.
When there are extended power outages, Con Ed could offer to install loaner generators to some elderly, disabled residents who don't have generators in their homes.
Any credit for backup generators should prioritize solar backup generators.
For those homeowners where a whole house backup generator would not be feasible, a tax credit for portable generators should be offered as well. These could help power refrigerators, freezers, a room heater, coffee maker, etc.. They are much less expensive: run $400 to $1300 each. They won’t heat a house butt it is an alternative.
GRADUALLY PLACE WIRES UNDERGROUND--CON ED DISAGREED WITH THIS RECOMMENDATION IN A CHANNEL 11 STORY THAT AIRED ON FRIDAY NIGHT.
Place wires underground (Con Ed said it would cost too much in this channel 11 news story –which aired Friday night from the Edgemont section of town). However- I believe that placing wires underground gradually could work. I suggest a federal, state, county, local initiative –with homeowners who want underground wires contributing to the costs. The town currently requires underground wiring in new subdivisions. To reduce the costs - if a local government is digging to replace pipes wires could be placed underground at the same time. If there are more wires underground, there will be fewer outages and if there are fewer outages the outages will be repaired quicker.
USE GPS SO CUSTOMERS KNOW EXACTLY WHERE CON ED CREWS ARE AT GIVEN TIMES
Con Ed should let people know what is happening. Crews should have GPS and Con Ed websites should show where all the crews are during restoration. Con Ed should also --on their website -highlight where they anticipate that they will be going next--and anticipated schedules for restorations. They should explain why an area is first and why other areas are last.
REIMBURSE CUSTOMERS WHO EXPERIENCE OUTAGES FOR MORE THAN 2 DAYS WITH HOTEL, EATING EXPENSES
Some people are luckier than others. If there are extended outages Con Ed should reimburse residents who have been suffering for hotels, eating expenses. Some residents have been spending hundreds of dollars a day on hotels, food expenses.
MORE SOLAR Promote more solar power.
HOW MANY CREWS DID CON ED HAVE 20 YEARS AGO, 10 YEARS AGO AND NOW--HAVE THEY CUT TOO MANY?
Did Con Ed have enough crews, how were they dispersed. How much time before out of state crews are called? What is the cost of calling in out of state crews? If Con Ed calls in out of state crews and the weather turns out not to be bad - how much will Con Ed lose in revenue? Con Ed has been cutting back like everyone else. Years ago they hired for emergencies--but residents were angry because some of the staff was really not needed during non emergencies. What is the right balance? During this outage there seemed to be fewer mutual aid than previous. We should compare the assistance during this past storm to previous storms.
BETTER COMMUNICATIONS AND MORE ACCURATE INFO
Con Ed phoned residents during the storm advising that power was on when it was off. Some people had gone to hotels, left the hotel after they got the robo call, went home. Power was not back on. And they lost the hotel room to another powerless resident. How does Con Ed keep track of the progress and how do they report that progress within their organization and externally to the public. Included in this is how they formulate estimates of how long someone should be without power and how reliable is the estimate.
Con ed should provide local officials – police, fire, DPW and elected officials with up to date info –so everyone knows what Con Ed is doing at any given time after a storm and where, when.
The information Con Ed offered residents during the last storm was too general. When someone called Con Ed in the past they had no information specific to their home or block.
Con Ed should develop a listing of cell phone numbers and robo call impacted customers via cellphone—providing them with up to date info.
Con Ed and local police, public works officials should conduct annual practice drills for major storms---testing out communications, calling in of mutual aid
NYS SHOULD USE MORE NATIONAL GUARD MEMBERS TO HELP RESTORE POWER QUICKER
NY state assigned some national guard members to the area but not enough. As part of the practice drill program listed above – the National Guard should be involved in the planning of a coordinated response to major storms and should work with local officials.
THE ELDERLY—We need to review the policies we use for people who have life threatening illnesses. ALSO- neighbor to neighbor checks. For seniors who live alone, it would be helpful if a neighbors or local governments/Con ed could check to find out whether they have food or are maronned because they cannot get their car out of the garage.
COMPARISONS WITH PREVIOUS STORMS There should be a post mortem on each storm—including audit and analysis of all extra costs expended in recent years (Sandy, Irene, etc..). If Con Ed would aggregate all of these extra expenditures and projected future storm expenses it’s worth reviewing how else that money could be deployed.
Should we deregulate utilities--provide competition for distributing power?