State investigates PSEG-LI and Altice/Optimum handling of Tropical Storm outages

State investigates PSEG-LI and Altice/Optimum handling of Tropical Storm outages

Workers clean up tree damage in Glastonbury, Conn., Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. The Connecticut National Guard joined over 1,750 utility crews in Connecticut on Friday in efforts to clear trees and restore power to more than 400,000 homes and businesses still in the dark, as frustration continued to grow over the pace of the response to Tropical Storm Isaias. (AP Photo/David Collins)

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday, August 19, 2020, announced that the New York State Department of Public Service had sent sent Notice of Apparent Violation letters to PSEG Long Island and to cable and internet provider Altice-Optimum that they now face steep penalties and must take immediate corrective actions so that similar failures are not repeated during the remainder of hurricane season.

The Department of Public Service is threatening to terminate PSEG-LI’s contract with LIPA if the investigation deems it appropriate.  Cuomo said, “The response to tropical storm Isaias by the electric utilities was completely unacceptable. Fifteen days later and we are still hearing complaints from families and businesses,”.  Cuomo added, “With many weeks remaining in the hurricane season, we do not have the luxury of time — utilities must act immediately to fix their broken storm response apparatus, and the Department of Public Service must act more swiftly to hold utilities accountable. DFS will help DPS on this investigation because I want a faster and more thorough investigation than they’ve done in the past. I am also going to propose legislation to facilitate, expedite, and clarify the process for a utility to lose their franchise. These utility companies predict when we’re going to have storms and when we’re going to have emergencies – that’s the art form of the business and what we pay them for. They need to do better and we are holding them accountable.”

The Governors office also said that the Department of Public works, cited PSEG LI for a failure of its outage management system, inaccurate communications and problems with its call center.  Altice-Optimum apparently did not follow its emergency plan pertaining to generator deployment and communications protocols, among other failures.

DPS has also called on PSEG LI to forfeit its 2020 incentive compensation of approximately $10 million as a first step and to use the proceeds toward compensating families and small businesses who lost food and medicine as a result of the extensive outages, and PSEG LI has agreed to do so.

The State is directing the utilities to undertake several corrective actions, including:

  • Add crewing capacity via retainer contracts from private contractors or utilities located outside of New York, with a goal to be able to secure in advance of a storm double the level of internal linemen and tree crews;
  • Test capabilities at all command centers, call centers and back-up command centers to ensure capability to handle an event that affects 90 percent or more of their customers in their service territory and provide confirmation back to the Department regarding the results of this test within 10 days;
  • Refine coordination plans with municipalities tailored to each county (road clearing, local liaisons, etc.) and provide to the Department within 20 days a written confirmation from each county Emergency Operations Center that they understand and accept the plan; and
  • Update life support equipment and critical infrastructure lists to remove or add customers as identified during Tropical Storm Isaias and file such updated lists to the Department within 10 days.

The Department also identified several potential violations related to Altice-Optimum’s storm response in the lower Hudson Valley and Long Island, including a failure to coordinate emergency response with local officials, communications failures, and insufficient generator capacity for their network. The Department letter demands that Altice-Optimum promptly remedy these issues and provides notice that the investigation will include a review of whether the company is in violation of the Commission’s 2016 order approving its acquisition of Cablevision.

In addition to sending out notices of violations to the aforementioned utilities and Altice-Optimum, the Department also informed the State’s other major electric utilities — NYSEG, National Grid, and RG&E — to immediately secure supplemental crews that can be deployed in the event of an emergency, to test the capabilities of the utility’s command center, back-up command center, and call center to ensure capability to handle a large event (more than 90 percent of customers affected) in their service territory; and to file road clearing and liaison plans with each county emergency operations center, update lists of customers who use life-saving equipment in their homes, and update critical infrastructure lists.


(Photo: AP Images)