Updates from the Committee on Energy

Hearing Examines Power Outages
Focuses on improving preparation & response to emergencies
April 23, 2010

Albany – Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (D-Ulster, Dutchess), Chair of the Assembly Energy Committee, held a hearing regarding the power outages that left hundreds of thousands of people in the Hudson Valley Region without power for prolonged periods after two severe storms in February.

"The February storms left too many households without power for too long. Lives were put at risk and people deserve to know what can be done to prevent similar events in the future," said Assemblymember Cahill. “Winter storms are a fact of life in our region; our electric grid has to be able to withstand the stress they bring. It is critical that the State, utilities, local governments and emergency responders remain vigilant in preparing, coordinating and executing outage prevention and response plans."

The hearing examined several issues, including: factors contributing to the severity and duration of the outages; if the response was as timely and adequate as it should have been; if the investor owned utilities charged with maintaining the integrity of the electric grid had proper plans and staffing in place; were the recommendations stemming from previous outages implemented and effective; and recommendations to reduce the possibility of future outages.

A major topic of discussion was the state's role in assuring that there is an up to date plan for utilities to deal with severe weather episodes. The New York State Public Service Commission is in charge of administering the regulations that guide the process. However, those guidelines have not been updated since 1992.

“A lot has changed in the world in the past 18 years. Our communications methods have become much more sophisticated and we are more dependent on electricity than ever,” said Assemblymember Cahill. "However, the regulations we are using for the 21st Century are still firmly rooted in the 20th. That is an area we need to look into and make necessary adjustments."

Communications was another topic that was examined by the Committee. Proactive outreach from utilities would serve to keep people informed of developments before, during and after the storm, and would supply them with basic information about restoration. That is particularly important in the case of consumers with special needs, such as those who rely on electrically powered life sustaining equipment or have mobility issues.

"One thing we can take away from this hearing is that contacting consumers during the outage can go a long way to alleviating frustration, and keeping people safe,” Assemblymember Cahill said. "I am interested in how we can put in place a communications system that will better serve customers."

The Committee heard testimony from representatives of the Public Service Commission, Consolidated Edison, Orange and Rockland Utilities, Central Hudson Gas and Electric, New York State Electric and Gas and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. "We are working together to address the factors contributing to the severity of these outages," said Assemblymember Cahill. "The events of this past February and the December 2008 ice storm brought to light several issues surrounding communication, utility staffing and coordination of outside crews brought in to assist in the response. It was very instructive to hear how the lessons learned will be applied to lessen the impact of future storms."