U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the Long Island Power Authority to put in place a comprehensive emergency storm response plan in conjunction with Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) to ensure that the Island has sufficient number of personnel and resources available to address massive power outages in a timely and efficient way in the aftermath of a major storm. Last week, LIPA received final sign-off from the New York State Comptroller’s office for a merger with Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) to manage Long Island’s electric power grid. PSEG will replace National Grid in January 2014. National Grid will, however, continue to maintain and operate natural gas and power generation infrastructure on the Island. Previous to the merger, National Grid serviced both the Island’s electric and gas grids, with a total of approximately 2,600 on-island employees that could be mobilized from either the gas or electric workforces to help restore electric lines in the aftermath of a storm. With PSEG and National Grid splitting responsibilities for electric and gas, the total number of immediately accessible on-island personnel under LIPA contract to help restore electric power in the aftermath of mass outages could be reduced significantly. Generally in a storm, the electric grid is most heavily damaged because power lines primarily run above ground on Long Island, unlike gas lines, which are buried below ground. Because of this fact, National Grid utilizes some personnel from its gas division to support electric restoration, a luxury that PSEG itself does not have readily available on Long Island since it will only be servicing the Island’s electric grid under the merger approved last week. In the event of a major occurrence, PSEG would have to execute a contract with National Grid, among others, to immediately mobilize the needed workforce. Schumer is pressing for LIPA and PSEG to put a storm response plan in place that spells out this reality and addresses it.
“The bottom line is, LIPA and PSEG need to have a plan in place to keep the lights on so that Long Island homeowners and businesses aren’t ever again left in the dark for up to 9 days,” said Schumer. “Three days without power is difficult, five days is unbearable and nine days is simply unacceptable. Before PSEG takes over, a comprehensive emergency response plan needs to be in place that addresses how to make up for the loss of an immediately available on-island workforce that was previously tapped through National Grid. The storm response provided in the wake of Irene was difficult enough for National Grid, which had an available workforce twice as large as what PSEG will have under contract on the Island.”
Schumer also pointed out that a newly released PSC report highlighted the lack of a unified plan between LIPA and National Grid for storm response and the necessary public communication infrastructure as the reasons why last year’s response failed. He made the case that a unified storm response plan developed by LIPA and PSEG, that addresses the PSC report, must be hammered out now to prepare for the transition during the 2014 hurricane season. The PSC report showed that LIPA and National Grid had two separate plans that sometimes conflicted and were out of date with each other under the terms of their contract.
The federal government, through FEMA, reimburses utilities like LIPA tens of millions of dollars for storm response work once a Presidential Disaster Declaration is made. Schumer argued that cost savings could be achieved through a more unified storm response plan than existed under the LIPA-National Grid contract. He also made the point that any plan needs to properly consider and prepare for the fact that PSEG will have to contract for additional on-island manpower than the company has immediately available to it under the new LIPA merger set to go into effect January 2014.
Currently, during and after severe storms, LIPA utilizes National Grid Gas and Power Generation employees to help with power restoration emergencies. Employees of National Grid’s gas and power generation operations provide LIPA with a readily available “on island” workforce to assist with storm emergencies. This pool of workers serve various duties to help with power restoration. For example, certain gas employees perform two-man line restoration work, conduct damage surveys, and answer phones at the LIPA call center. As it stands today, PSEG does not have immediate access to this manpower, approximately 1,250 personnel of whom work exclusively for National Grid’s gas operations. With a significantly less “on island” workforce available to assist in emergencies, LIPA could face considerable challenges adequately and efficiently responding to power outages on Long Island of the scale and scope of Irene. Schumer raised concerns that without a plan in place, National Grid’s on-island personnel in the natural gas division could well wind up contracted to other areas of the state/region to assist with other National Grid operations.
Schumer also noted that he would reach out to FEMA to see what role the agency can play, not only in sending dollars, but assisting LIPA and PSEG in ensuring they have a plan in place and have access to the needed workforce.
In the aftermath of Irene, over half a million LIPA customers were without power. It damaged 900 poles, 1,000 transformers, 80 switches and required a million feet of wire and cable to be replaced. There were approximately 900,000 customer calls received. Ultimately, LIPA utilized approximately 4,000 repair personnel to restore power. Even with this significant manpower, three days after the storm, 270,000 ratepayers still remained without power. In total it took 9 days to bring every home and business back on line. With the transition to a smaller PSEG workforce, and the lack of a new system to communicate with the public, Schumer raised concerns about what that could mean for restoring power in the future. The new PSC report raised the most serious questions with regard to the inability of LIPA and National Grid to effectively provide LIPA customers and public officials with accurate and timely information. The result was that thousands of Long Island customers were in the dark about the timing of restoration and could not plan their day-to-day living arrangements accordingly. Schumer wants to ensure that by the time the new merger between LIPA and PSEG takes effect, a fully unified storm response plan, that addresses changes in immediately accessible and contracted workforces, as well as communications issues raised by the PSC report, are fully addressed.
A copy of Schumer’s letter to LIPA and PSEG can be found below.
Dear Mr. Izzo and Mr. Hervey:
I write to urge you to immediately begin developing a unified and comprehensive emergency storm response plan, as required by the new 10-year agreement recently reached between your two organizations, that will address the issue of loss of guaranteed access to hundreds emergency of storm responders within National Grids gas and power generation divisions. During the transition between National Grid and PSEG, I would urge you to work collaboratively with National Grid, who will continue to have a skilled workforce of hundreds of potential storm responders on Long Island, as well as other potential contractors, and federal and state emergency experts, to establish an emergency storm response plan that will allow you to access the appropriate resources in terms of personnel, technology, and communication infrastructure in the event of a major storm disaster.
In the wake of tropical storm’s Irene and Lee, which devastated LIPA customers with protracted outages, it is imperative that PSEG has an appropriate emergency plan to meet the capacity of this region. 523,000 LIPA customers were without power in the immediate aftermath of Irene. As you know, the Public Service Commission (PSC) recently completed a LIPA storm response audit that identified a number of recommendations to improve future response activities. Among the numerous recommendations, PSEG and LIPA should work together to form a unified emergency storm response plan and improve communication between municipalities and, most importantly, the ratepayers during these storm events. As there are millions of dollars of federal emergency aid tied to these storm response activities, I strongly believe that LIPA and PSEG need to develop a more proactive approach to storm response that taps into national best practices, like cutting-edge communications technology to give ratepayers real-time information on the length of outages, “hardening” infrastructure improvements, and strategic removal of trees, which we know are the cause of the majority of downed power lines. For both of these issues – loss of potential manpower and implementation of the PSC recommendations – I stand ready to tap experts at the federal level in order to aid in the planning and development process.
Experts predict that there are more regular and intense storm events in years to come and I remain concerned over the reliability of energy for Long Island residents. As you are aware, reliable energy distribution impact every sector of a region and can at times mean the difference between life and death. With LIPA delivering power to 1.1 million customers, among them homes, schools, and hospitals, it is imperative that PSEG is capable of meeting the needs of these anchor institutions during a time of crisis. I also note that LIPA received over 900,000 customer calls. Many ratepayers were in the dark for as long as 9 days. The PSC audit specifically said that, moving forward, there needs to be a culture change at LIPA meaning it must give, “higher priority to communications as opposed to restoration.” Giving customers better information allows them to prepare for extends periods of outages. Therefore, I also urge LIPA and PSEG to improve its communication between municipalities and ratepayers as well as implement recommendations made by the recent PSC storm response audit.
Again, I urge LIPA and PSEG, in light of its recent Operating Service Agreement approval, to develop a unified emergency storm response plane that addresses the reduction of hundreds of storm responders within National Grid’s gas and power generation operations and improves communication between municipalities and ratepayers.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. If you are in need of any additional information please feel free to contact my office.